Functional characterization of members of the microRNA-17-92 cluster in the vascular system
- Almost two decades ago, microRNAs were discovered as novel posttranscriptional regulators of gene expression. Since then, research efforts have uncovered their involvement in the control of various cellular processes including migration, proliferation and cell survival. Even more complex events, such as the formation of new blood vessels or organ development, have been shown to be tightly regulated and orchestrated by microRNAs. Due to their crucial regulatory role in tissue homeostasis in vertebrates, it does not come as a big surprise that dysregulated microRNA ex-pression is associated with pathology of diverse diseases. In this regard, the miR-17-92 cluster is a prime example since it has become famous for its amplified expression in tumours and its on-cogenic potential. Our lab demonstrated the expression of the members of the miR-17-92 cluster, namely miR-17, -18a, -19a, -20a, -19b and -92a, in endothelial cells and provided evidence for the anti-angiogenic activity of miR-92a in ECs as well as its important regulatory role in tissue re-covery after ischemia. In this work we addressed the function of the remaining members of the miR-17-92 cluster, i.e. miR-17, miR-18a, miR-19a and miR-20a, in endothelial cells and angiogenesis. Surprisingly, the individual members all displayed anti-angiogenic properties in endothelial cells in vitro, although overexpression of the whole cluster in transformed colonocytes was shown to promote tumour angiogenesis in a mouse model. In this context, we provide evidence that the individual miRs differentially affect the paracrine angiogenic activity of endothelial and tumour cells. Moreover, Antagomir-mediated inhibition of miR-17/20 in a mouse tumour model did not affect tumour angi-ogenesis, although miR-17/20 inhibition profoundly increased vascularization of Matrigel plugs. Thus, our research efforts suggest a differential involvement of the members of the miR-17-92 cluster in physiological and tumour angiogenesis. Additionally, we identified Janus kinase (JAK) 1 as a novel miR-17 target in endothelial cells and demonstrated the involvement of JAK1 in angio-genesis and in the phosphorylation of STAT3 in response to different cytokines in vitro. Overall, inhibition of specific members of the miR-17-92 cluster might represent an attractive therapeutic strategy to enhance angiogenesis in ischemic diseases. In the second part of the present work we investigated the therapeutic value of Antagomir-mediated microRNA inhibition in animal models of pulmonary arterial hypertension. Collectively, inhibition of miR-17 by the respective Antagomir revealed a significant improvement of pulmonary hemodynamics and cardiac function in both the chronic hypoxia mouse model and the mono-crotaline-induced lung injury rat model. Histomorphometric analysis of the lungs of the pulmonary hypertensive mice and rats uncovered a significant reduction of disease associated musculariza-tion of pulmonary arteries in Antagomir-17 treated animals compared to the control animals indicating interference with smooth muscle cell proliferation or survival. Probing of lung tissue of the pulmonary hypertensive rats for selected miR-17 targets uncovered a profound increase in the expression of the cyclin dependent kinase inhibitor p21 in the Antagomir-17 treated rats suggest-ing that inhibition of miR-17 impairs proliferation by impeding cell cycle progression. Analysis of miR-17 function in human smooth muscle cells in vitro corroborated the results from the animal experiments by demonstrating pro-proliferative activity of miR-17 and decreased levels of p21 in these cells. Collectively, our results indicate that Antagomir-17 improves pulmonary hemodyna-mics and cardiac function by interfering with vascular remodelling within the lung. Hence, inhibi-tion of miR-17 might be of therapeutic value to ameliorate the disease pattern in pulmonary arte-rial hypertension. In summary, the present work provides insights into the regulatory functions of members of the miR-17-92 cluster, especially miR-17, in blood vessels and suggests that specific inhibition of members of the miR-17-92 cluster might be a novel option to treat vascular diseases.