July 2021


Epigenetic Regulation by Suv4-20h1 in Cardiopulmonary Progenitor Cells is Required to Prevent Pulmonary Hypertension and COPD

Qi H, Liu H, Pullamsetti SS, günther S, Kuenne C, Atzberger A, Sommer N, Hadzic S, Günther A, Weissmann N, Zhou Y, Yuan X, Braun T



Background: The etiology of life-threatening cardiopulmonary diseases such as Pulmonary Hypertension (PH) and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) originates from a complex interplay of environmental factors and genetic predispositions, which is not fully understood. Likewise, little is known about developmental abnormalities or epigenetic dysregulations that might predispose for PH or COPD in adult individuals.

Methods: To identify pathology-associated epigenetic alteration in diseased lung tissues, we screened a cohort of human PH and COPD patients for changes of histone modifications by immunofluorescence staining. To analyze the function of H4K20me2/3 in lung pathogenesis, we developed a series of Suv4-20h1 knockout mouse lines targeting cardiopulmonary progenitor cells (CPPs) and different heart and lung cell types, followed by hemodynamic studies and morphometric assessment of tissue samples. Molecular, cellular and biochemical techniques were applied to analyze the function of Suv4-20h1-dependent epigenetic processes in cardiopulmonary progenitor cells and their derivatives.

Results: We discovered a strong reduction of the histone modifications H4K20me2/3 in human COPD but not PH patients, which depend on the activity of the H4K20 di-methyltransferase SUV4-20H1. Loss of Suv4-20h1 in CPPs caused a COPD-like/PH phenotype in mice including formation of perivascular tertiary lymphoid tissue and goblet cell hyperplasia, hyper-proliferation of smooth muscle cells/myofibroblasts, impaired alveolarization and maturation defects of the microvasculature leading to massive right ventricular dilatation and premature death. Mechanistically, SUV4-20H1 binds directly to the 5′-upstream regulatory element of superoxide dismutase 3 (Sod3) gene to repress its expression. Increased levels of the extracellular SOD3 enzyme in Suv4-20h1 mutants increases hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) concentrations, causing vascular defects and impairing alveolarization.

Conclusions: Our findings reveal a pivotal role of the histone modifier SUV4-20H1 in cardiopulmonary co-development and uncover developmental origins of cardiopulmonary diseases. We assume that the study will facilitate the understanding of pathogenic events causing PH and COPD, and aid the development of epigenetic drugs for treatment of cardiopulmonary diseases.