The mortality and morbidity of patients with congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH) is primarily caused by treatment-resistant, persistent pulmonary hypertension. Structural vascular changes, exemplified by extensive muscularization, are already present early in gestation, but the origin of these abnormalities is unknown. Understanding the origin of the vascular defects is important to improve treatment modalities. Here, we show that the distribution of pericytes is different and may thereby potentially initiate the vascular pathology in CDH. Transient inhibition of retinoic acid (RA) signaling early during pregnancy, the basis of the CDH mouse model, led to an increase in the number of pericytes, thereby affecting the angiogenic potential of pericytes in the fetuses. Pericytes of CDH lungs showed reduced proliferation and an increased ACTA2 expression, which indicates that these pericytes are more contractile than in control lung pericytes. This resulted in increased pericyte coverage of pulmonary vessels and reduced expansion of the capillary bed, the earliest pathological sign of the structural changes in CDH. Furthermore, the pericytes had reduced and altered collagen IV deposition in CDH, pointing to a loss of basal membrane integrity between pericytes and endothelial cells. Inhibition of RA signaling in vitro resulted in reduced migration of pericytes, reduced angiogenesis, and loss of collagen IV expression. Importantly, we confirmed our findings in lungs of human CDH patient samples. In summary, inhibition of RA signaling affects the lung pericyte population, leading to increased contractility, reduced pulmonary angiogenesis, and aberrant lung development, as observed in CDH.
Full Access Link: American journal of physiology. Lung cellular and molecular physiology