Rationale: Pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) is characterized by enhanced proliferation of pulmonary artery smooth muscle cells (PASMCs) accompanying increased production of inflammatory factors and adaptation of the mitochondrial metabolism to a hyperproliferative state. However, all the drugs in clinical use target pulmonary vascular dilatation, which may not be effective for patients with advanced PAH. Objective: We aimed to discover a novel drug for PAH that inhibits PASMC proliferation. Methods and Results: We screened 5562 compounds from original library using high-Throughput screening system to discover compounds which inhibit proliferation of PASMCs from patients with PAH (PAH-PASMCs). We found that celastramycin, a benzoyl pyrrole-Type compound originally found in a bacteria extract, inhibited the proliferation of PAH-PASMCs in a dose-dependent manner with relatively small effects on PASMCs from healthy donors. Then, we made 25 analogs of celastramycin and selected the lead compound, which significantly inhibited cell proliferation of PAH-PASMCs and reduced cytosolic reactive oxygen species levels. Mechanistic analysis demonstrated that celastramycin reduced the protein levels of HIF-1 (hypoxia-inducible factor 1), which impairs aerobic metabolism, and κB (nuclear factor-κB), which induces proinflammatory signals, in PAH-PASMCs, leading to reduced secretion of inflammatory cytokine. Importantly, celastramycin treatment reduced reactive oxygen species levels in PAH-PASMCs with increased protein levels of Nrf2 (nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2), a master regulator of cellular response against oxidative stress. Furthermore, celastramycin treatment improved mitochondrial energy metabolism with recovered mitochondrial network formation in PAH-PASMCs. Moreover, these celastramycin-mediated effects were regulated by ZFC3H1 (zinc finger C3H1 domain-containing protein), a binding partner of celastramycin. Finally, celastramycin treatment ameliorated pulmonary hypertension in 3 experimental animal models, accompanied by reduced inflammatory changes in the lungs. Conclusions: These results indicate that celastramycin ameliorates pulmonary hypertension, reducing excessive proliferation of PAH-PASMCs with less inflammation and reactive oxygen species levels, and recovered mitochondrial energy metabolism. Thus, celastramycin is a novel drug for PAH that targets antiproliferative effects on PAH-PASMCs.
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