Pulmonary fibrosis is a progressive disorder characterized by the loss of alveolar architecture through epithelial and endothelial cell apoptosis and fibroblast proliferation. Recent studies showed that angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) activity is increased in fibrotic tissues, and ACE inhibitors administered in vivo ameliorate fibrosis, suggesting that ACE may play a critical role. However, the regulation of ACE expression is not well understood. In the present study, we demonstrate that bleomycin, a chemotherapeutic agent which induces pulmonary fibrosis in animals and humans, increases gene expression of ACE. Treatment of primary bovine pulmonary artery endothelial cells with 0.1 to 1.0 microg/ml bleomycin increased ACE enzymatic activity and ACE mRNA, as monitored by hippuryl-L-histidyl-L-leucine assay and competitive quantitative reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), respectively. Luciferase reporter constructs showed that upregulation of ACE transcription by bleomycin is mediated through element(s) in the 97-bp ACE promoter. Bleomycin activated p42/p44 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) and induced nuclear translocation and activation of the early growth response (Egr)-1 transcription factor, a factor previously shown to positively regulate ACE expression. The MAPK kinase1/2 (MEK1/2) inhibitor U0126 blocked MAPK and Egr-1 activation by bleomycin, suggesting that Egr-1 activation is MAPK dependent. These data provide the first evidence that bleomycin activates ACE gene expression through the MAPK pathway and Egr-1.
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