Chronic hypoxia leads to pathologic remodeling of the pulmonary vasculature and pulmonary hypertension (PH). The antioxidant enzyme extracellular superoxide dismutase (SOD3) protects against hypoxia-induced PH. Hyaluronan (HA), a ubiquitous glycosaminoglycan of the lung extracellular matrix, is rapidly recycled at sites of vessel injury and repair. We investigated the hypothesis that SOD3 preserves HA homeostasis by inhibiting oxidative and enzymatic hyaluronidase-mediated HA breakdown. In SOD3-deficient mice, hypoxia increased lung hyaluronidase expression and activity, hyaluronan fragmentation, and effacement of HA from the vessel wall of small pulmonary arteries. Hyaluronan fragmentation corresponded to hypoxic induction of the cell surface hyaluronidase-2 (Hyal2), which was localized in the vascular media. Human pulmonary artery smooth muscle cells (HPASMCs) demonstrated hypoxic induction of Hyal2 and SOD-suppressible hyaluronidase activity, congruent to our observations in vivo. Fragmentation of homeostatic high molecular weight HA promoted HPASMC proliferation in vitro, whereas pharmacologic inhibition of hyaluronidase activity prevented hypoxia- and oxidant-induced proliferation. Hypoxia initiates SOD3-dependent alterations in the structure and regulation of hyaluronan in the pulmonary vascular extracellular matrix. These changes occurred soon after hypoxia exposure, prior to appearance of PH, and may contribute to the early pathogenesis of this disease.
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