A gene called FoxM1 has been identified as a promising target for treatment of pulmonary hypertension, or high blood pressure in the lung arteries. The study from Stanley Manne Children's Research Institute at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago is published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
Patients with this severe lung disease that damages the right side of the heart have a five-year survival rate of 50 percent. The study results will drive development of new drugs to reverse a process called vascular remodeling, or thickening of lung artery walls - a key feature in pulmonary hypertension .
"Currently we do not have drugs that target vascular remodeling in pulmonary hypertension," says lead author Zhiyu Dai, PhD, from the Manne Research Institute at Lurie Children's, who also is a Research Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "Our study shows that when we deleted the FoxM1 gene in the smooth muscle cells of the artery in mice, the result was thinner artery walls, reduced blood pressure in the lung and improved right heart function. We can use a compound against FoxM1 to reverse vascular remodeling in rat models of the disease. "
Dr. Dai and colleagues also discovered that in pulmonary hypertension, the FoxM1 gene is turned on by many growth factors that are released by damaged endothelial cells, which line the inner wall of the artery. Endothelial cell damage is considered to be the initial event in the development of pulmonary hypertension. Signals from the released growth factors induce FoxM1 gene expression to increase production of smooth muscle cells in the middle layer of the artery wall, which causes artery wall thickening.
"We will now focus on developing new drugs that will inhibit the FoxM1 gene and hopefully improve outcomes for patients with pulmonary hypertension," says Dr. Dai.