8 November 2019
Excessive TGF-β signalling has been shown to underlie pulmonary hypertension (PAH). Human pulmonary artery smooth muscle cells (HPASMCs) can release extracellular vesicles (EVs) but their contents and significance have not yet been studied. Here, we aimed to analyse the contents and biological relevance of HPASMC-EVs and their transport to human pulmonary arterial endothelial cells (HPAECs), as well as the potential alteration of these under pathological conditions.
We used low-input RNA-Seq to analyse the RNA cargoes sorted into released HPASMC-EVs under basal conditions. We additionally analysed the effects of excessive TGF-β signalling, using TGF-β1 and BMP4, in the transcriptome of HPASMCs and their EVs. We then, for the first time, optimised Cre-loxP technology for its use with primary cells in vitro, directly visualising HPASMC-to-HPAEC communication and protein markers on cells taking up EVs. Furthermore we could analyse alteration of this transport with excessive TGF-β signalling, as well as by other cytokines involved in PAH: IL-1β, TNF-α and VEGFA.
We were able to detect transcripts from 2417 genes in HPASMC-EVs. Surprisingly, among the 759 enriched in HPASMC-EVs compared to their donor cells, we found Zeb1 and 2 TGF-β superfamily ligands, GDF11 and TGF-β3. Moreover, we identified 90 genes differentially expressed in EVs from cells treated with TGF-β1 compared to EVs in basal conditions, including a subset involved in actin and ECM remodelling, among which were bHLHE40 and palladin. Finally, using Cre-loxP technology we showed cell-to-cell transfer and translation of HPASMC-EV Cre mRNA from HPASMC to HPAECs, effectively evidencing communication via EVs. Furthermore, we found increased number of smooth-muscle actin positive cells on HPAECs that took up HPASMC-EVs. The uptake and translation of mRNA was also higher in activated HPAECs, when stimulated with TGF-β1 or IL-1β.
HPASMC-EVs are enriched in RNA transcripts that encode genes that could contribute to vascular remodelling and EndoMT during development and PAH, and TGF-β1 up-regulates some that could enhance this effects. These EVs are functionally transported, increasingly taken up by activated HPAECs and contribute to EndoMT, suggesting a potential effect of HPASMC-EVs in TGF-β signalling and other related processes during PAH development.