Pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) is a proliferative remodeling disease characterized by enhanced pulmonary artery smooth muscle (PASMC) proliferation and suppressed apoptosis. The upregulation of Bromodomain-containing 4 (BRD4) in lungs, distal pulmonary arteries and PASMC of patients compared to control as well as in rat Sugen/Hypoxia model may lead to this phenotype of the disease. Apabetalone is a first-in-class orally active inhibitor of Bromodomain and extraterminal domain (BET) transcriptional regulators, including BRD4. Therefore, we hypothesized that inhibition of BET with Apabetalone reverses PAH.
Methods and Results:
In vitro, human PAH-PASMC treated with Apabetalone (10 to 50uM) showed less proliferation than vehicle-treated cells (n=4, p<0.05, Ki-67 immunostaining). This decrease in proliferation was associated with greater amount of apoptosis (n=4-5, p<0.01, Annexin V staining). In vivo, using unbiased methodologies (randomization, blinding approaches), we showed that Apabetalone administered orally alone or with standard of care (Macitentan and Tadalafil) in Sugen/Hypoxia PAH rats significantly decreased mean pulmonary artery and right ventricle systolic pressures and improved cardiac output and stroke volume (all p<0.05, n=5-10, right heart catheterization). Ex vivo experiments showed that Apabetalone significantly decreased vascular remodeling, decreased proliferation and increased apoptosis in PAH-PASMC compared to vehicle (all p<0.05, n=6-10, Elastica Van Gieson, Ki-67 and TUNEL staining). Mechanistically, Apabetalone effects are associated with FOXM1 downregulation (a transcription factor implicated in PAH development) (p<0.05 n=4-10) leading to a decrease in Plk1, IL6 and Mcp1 expression (qRT-PCR). These findings were all duplicated independently by the Netherland PAH consortium.
Overall, we demonstrated that Apabetalone alone and in combination with SOC resulted in a significant improvement of hemodynamic and RV function in experimental PAH. Given that Apabetalone is in a phase 3 clinical trial cardiovascular disease, our study supports the development of an early proof of concept clinical trial in PAH patients