Progression of pulmonary hypertension is associated with increased serine elastase activity and the proteinase-dependent deposition of the extracellular matrix smooth muscle cell survival factor tenascin-C (refs. 1,2). Tenascin-C amplifies the response of smooth muscle cells to growth factors, which are also liberated through matrix proteolysis. Recent organ culture studies using hypertrophied rat pulmonary arteries have shown that elastase inhibitors suppress tenascin-C and induce smooth muscle cell apoptosis. This initiates complete regression of the hypertrophied vessel wall by a coordinated loss of cellularity and extracellular matrix. We now report that elastase inhibitors can reverse advanced pulmonary vascular disease produced in rats by injecting monocrotaline, an endothelial toxin. We began oral administration of the peptidyl trifluoromethylketone serine elastase inhibitors M249314 or ZD0892 21 days after injection of monocrotaline. A 1-week treatment resulted in 92% survival, compared with 39% survival in untreated or vehicle-treated rats. Pulmonary artery pressure and muscularization were reduced by myocyte apoptosis and loss of extracellular matrix, specifically elastin and tenascin-C. After 2 weeks, pulmonary artery pressure and structure normalized, and survival was 86%, compared with 0% in untreated or vehicle-treated rats. Although concomitant treatment with various agents can reduce pulmonary hypertension, we have documented complete regression after establishment of malignant monocrotaline-induced disease.
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