We previously reported heightened expression of the human endogenous retroviral protein HERV-K deoxyuridine triphosphate nucleotidohydrolase (dUTPase) in circulating monocytes and pulmonary arterial (PA) adventitial macrophages of patients with PA hypertension (PAH). Furthermore, recombinant HERV-K dUTPase increased IL-6 in PA endothelial cells (PAECs) and caused pulmonary hypertension in rats. Here we show that monocytes overexpressing HERV-K dUTPase, as opposed to GFP, can release HERV-K dUTPase in extracellular vesicles (EVs) that cause pulmonary hypertension in mice in association with endothelial mesenchymal transition (EndMT) related to induction of SNAIL/SLUG and proinflammatory molecules IL-6 as well as VCAM1. In PAECs, HERV-K dUTPase requires TLR4-myeloid differentiation primary response–88 to increase IL-6 and SNAIL/SLUG, and HERV-K dUTPase interaction with melanoma cell adhesion molecule (MCAM) is necessary to upregulate VCAM1. TLR4 engagement induces p-p38 activation of NF-κB in addition to p-pSMAD3 required for SNAIL and pSTAT1 for IL-6. HERV-K dUTPase interaction with MCAM also induces p-p38 activation of NF-κB in addition to pERK1/2-activating transcription factor-2 (ATF2) to increase VCAM1. Thus in PAH, monocytes or macrophages can release HERV-K dUTPase in EVs, and HERV-K dUTPase can engage dual receptors and signaling pathways to subvert PAEC transcriptional machinery to induce EndMT and associated proinflammatory molecules.
Shoichiro Otsuki, Toshie Saito, Shalina Taylor, Dan Li, Jan-Renier Moonen, David P. Marciano, Rebecca L. Harper, Aiqin Cao, Lingli Wang, Maria E. Ariza, Marlene Rabinovitch