Deficiency of Axl aggravates pulmonary arterial hypertension via BMPR2.
Pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), is a fatal disease characterized by a pseudo-malignant phenotype. We investigated the expression and the role of the receptor tyrosine kinase Axl in experimental (i.e., monocrotaline and Su5416/hypoxia treated rats) and clinical PAH. In vitro Axl inhibition by R428 and Axl knock-down inhibited growth factor-driven proliferation and migration of non-PAH and PAH PASMCs. Conversely, Axl overexpression conferred a growth advantage. Axl declined in PAECs of PAH patients. Axl blockage inhibited BMP9 signaling and increased PAEC apoptosis, while BMP9 induced Axl phosphorylation. Gas6 induced SMAD1/5/8 phosphorylation and ID1/ID2 increase were blunted by BMP signaling obstruction. Axl association with BMPR2 was facilitated by Gas6/BMP9 stimulation and diminished by R428. In vivo R428 aggravated right ventricular hypertrophy and dysfunction, abrogated BMPR2 signaling, elevated pulmonary endothelial cell apoptosis and loss. Together, Axl is a key regulator of endothelial BMPR2 signaling and potential determinant of PAH.