Normal growth and development of lymphatic structures depends on mechanical forces created by accumulating interstitial fluid. However, prolonged exposure to pathologic mechanical stimuli generated by chronically elevated lymph flow results in lymphatic dysfunction. The mechanisms that transduce these mechanical forces are not fully understood. Our objective was to investigate molecular mechanisms that alter the growth and metabolism of isolated lymphatic endothelial cells (LECs) exposed to prolonged pathologically elevated lymph flow in vivo within the anatomic and physiologic context of a large animal model of congenital heart disease with increased pulmonary blood flow using in vitro approaches. To this end, late gestation fetal lambs underwent in utero placement of an aortopulmonary graft (shunt). Four weeks after birth, LECs were isolated and cultured from control and shunt lambs. Redox status and proliferation were quantified, and transcriptional profiling and metabolomic analyses were performed. Shunt LECs exhibited hyperproliferative growth driven by increased levels of Hypoxia Inducible Factor 1α (HIF-1α), along with upregulated expression of known HIF-1α target genes in response to mechanical stimuli and shear stress. Compared to control LECs, shunt LECs exhibited abnormal metabolism including abnormalities of glycolysis, the TCA cycle and aerobic respiration. In conclusion, LECs from lambs exposed in vivo to chronically increased pulmonary lymph flow are hyperproliferative, have enhanced expression of HIF-1α and its target genes, and demonstrate altered central carbon metabolism in vitro. Importantly, these findings suggest provocative therapeutic targets for patients with lymphatic abnormalities.
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