A number of systemic diseases lead to pulmonary hypertension (PH), a serious disorder with a high morbidity and mortality rate. Irrespective of the underlying disease, endothelial dysfunction or disruption plays a key role in the initiation and progression of PH. Endothelial dysfunction and disruption result in impaired vascular relaxation response, activation of proliferative pathways leading to medial hypertrophy and PH. Endothelial cells (EC) play a crucial role in regulating vascular tone and maintaining homeostasis. Caveolin-1, a 21-22 kD membrane protein, interacts with a number of transducing factors and maintains them in a negative conformation. Disruption of EC results in endothelial caveolin-1 loss and reciprocal activation of proliferative pathways leading to PH, and the accompanying loss of PECAM1 and vascular endothelial cadherin results in barrier dysfunction. These changes lead to the irreversibility of PH. Hypoxia-induced PH is not accompanied by endothelial disruption or caveolin-1 loss but is associated with caveolin-1 dysfunction and the activation of proliferative pathways. Removal of hypoxic exposure results in the reversal of the disease. Thus, EC integrity is an important factor that determines irreversibility vs. reversibility of PH. This chapter will discuss normal EC function and the differences encountered in PH following EC disruption and EC dysfunction.
Part of the book: Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Pathology