Molecular Basis for Dysregulated Activation of NKX2-5 in the Vascular Remodeling of Systemic Sclerosis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • External authors:
  • Athina Dritsoula
  • Ioannis Papaioannou
  • Sandra G. Guerra
  • Carmen Fonseca
  • Javier Martin
  • David J. Abraham
  • Christopher P. Denton
  • Markella Ponticos


Objective: NKX2-5 is a homeobox transcription factor that is required for the formation of the heart and vessels during development, with significant postnatal down-regulation and reactivation in disease states, characterized by vascular remodeling. The purpose of this study was to investigate mechanisms that activate NKX2-5 expression in diseased vessels, such as systemic sclerosis (scleroderma; SSc)–associated pulmonary hypertension (PH), and to identify genetic variability that potentially underlies susceptibility to specific vascular complications. Methods: We explored NKX2-5 expression in biopsy samples from patients with SSc-associated PH and in pulmonary artery smooth muscle cells (PASMCs) from patients with scleroderma. Disease-associated putative functional single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) at the NKX2-5 locus were cloned and studied in reporter gene assays. SNP function was further examined through protein–DNA binding assays, chromatin immunoprecipitation assays, and RNA silencing analyses. Results: Increased NKX2-5 expression in biopsy samples from patients with SSc-associated PH was localized to remodeled vessels and PASMCs. Meta-analysis of 2 independent scleroderma cohorts revealed an association of rs3131917 with scleroderma (P = 0.029). We demonstrated that disease-associated SNPs are located in a novel functional enhancer, which increases NKX2-5 transcriptional activity through the binding of GATA-6, c-Jun, and myocyte-specific enhancer factor 2C. We also characterized an activator/coactivator transcription-enhancer factor domain 1 (TEAD1)/Yes-associated protein 1 (YAP1) complex, which was bound at rs3095870, another functional SNP, with TEAD1 binding the risk allele and activating the transcription of NKX2-5. Conclusion: NKX2-5 is genetically associated with scleroderma, pulmonary hypertension, and fibrosis. Functional evidence revealed a regulatory mechanism that results in NKX2-5 transcriptional activation in PASMCs through the interaction of an upstream promoter and a novel downstream enhancer. This mechanism can act as a model for NKX2-5 activation in cardiovascular disease characterized by vascular remodeling.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)920-931
Number of pages12
JournalArthritis and Rheumatology
Issue number6
Early online date17 Jan 2018
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2018