BACKGROUND: Recent accumulating evidence suggests that toll-like receptor 9 (TLR9) is involved in the pathogenesis of cardiovascular diseases. However, its role in pulmonary hypertension remains uncertain. We hypothesized that TLR9 is involved in the development of pulmonary hypertension. METHODS AND RESULTS: A rat model of monocrotaline-induced pulmonary hypertension was used to investigate the effects of TLR9 on hemodynamic parameters, vascular remodeling, and survival. Monocrotaline-exposed rats significantly showed increases in plasma levels of mitochondrial DNA markers, which are recognized by TLR9, TLR9 activation in the lung, and interleukin-6 mRNA level in the lung on day 14 after monocrotaline injection. Meanwhile, monocrotaline-exposed rats showed elevated right ventricular systolic pressure, total pulmonary vascular resistance index and vascular remodeling, together with macrophage accumulation on day 21. In the preventive protocol, administration (days −3 to 21 after monocrotaline injection) of selective (E6446) or nonselective TLR9 inhibitor (chloroquine) significantly ameliorated the elevations of right ventricular systolic pressure and total pulmonary vascular resistance index as well as vascular remodeling and macrophage accumulation on day 21. These inhibitors also significantly reduced NF-κB activation and interleukin-6 mRNA levels to a similar extent. In the short-term reversal protocol, E646 treatment (days 14–17 after monocrotaline injection) almost normalized NF-κB activation and interleukin-6 mRNA level, and reduced macrophage accumulation. In the prolonged reversal protocol, E6446 treatment (days 14–24 after monocrotaline injection) reversed total pulmonary vascular resistance index and vascular remodeling, and improved survival in monocrotaline-exposed rats. CONCLUSIONS: TLR9 is involved in the development of pulmonary hypertension concomitant via activation of the NF-κB‒IL-6 pathway. Inhibition of TLR9 may be a novel therapeutic strategy for pulmonary hypertension.
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