The functional involvement of bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) system in primary pulmonary hypertension (PPH) remains unclear. Here we demonstrate a crucial role of the BMP type IB receptor, activin receptor-like kinase (ALK)-6 for pulmonary arterial smooth muscle cell (pphPASMC) mitosis isolated from a sporadic PPH patient bearing no mutations in BMPR2 gene. A striking increase in the levels of ALK-6 mRNA was revealed in pphPASMC compared with control PASMCs, in which ALK-6 transcripts were hardly detectable. BMP-2 and -7 stimulated the mitosis of pphPASMCs, which was opposite to their suppressive effects on the mitosis of the control PASMCs. BMP-4 and -6 and activin inhibited pphPASMC mitosis, whereas these did not affect control PASMCs. The presence of BMP signaling machinery in pphPASMCs was elucidated based on the analysis on Id-1 transcription and Smad-reporter genes. Overespression of a dominant-negative ALK-6 construct revealed that ALK-6 plays a key role in the mitosis as well as intracellular BMP signaling of pphPASMCs. Gene silencing of ALK-6 using small interfering RNA also reduced DNA synthesis as well as Id-1 transcription in pphPASMCs regardless of BMP-2 stimulation. Although Id-1 response was not stimulated by BMP-2 in control PASMCs, the gene delivery of wild-type ALK-6 caused significant increase in the Id-1 transcripts in response to BMP-2. Additionally, inhibitors of ERK and p38 MAPK pathways suppressed pphPASMC mitosis induced by BMP-2, implying that the mitotic action is in part MAPK dependent. Thus, the BMP system is strongly involved in pphPASMC mitosis through ALK-6, which possibly leads to activation of Smad and MAPK, resulting in the progression of vascular remodeling of pulmonary arteries in PPH.
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