RATIONALE - Idiopathic pulmonary arterial hypertension (IPAH) is usually without an identified genetic cause, despite clinical and molecular similarity to bone morphogenetic protein receptor type 2 mutation-associated heritable pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH). There is phenotypic heterogeneity in IPAH, with a minority of patients showing long-term improvement with calcium channel-blocker therapy.
OBJECTIVES - We sought to identify gene variants (GVs) underlying IPAH and determine whether GVs differ in vasodilator-responsive IPAH (VR-PAH) versus vasodilator-nonresponsive IPAH (VN-PAH).
METHODS - We performed whole-exome sequencing (WES) on 36 patients with IPAH: 17 with VR-PAH and 19 with VN-PAH. Wnt pathway differences were explored in human lung fibroblasts.
MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS - We identified 1,369 genes with 1,580 variants unique to IPAH. We used a gene ontology approach to analyze variants and identified overrepresentation of several pathways, including cytoskeletal function and ion binding. By mapping WES data to prior genome-wide association study data, Wnt pathway genes were highlighted. Using the connectivity map to define genetic differences between VR-PAH and VN-PAH, we found enrichment in vascular smooth muscle cell contraction pathways and greater genetic variation in VR-PAH versus VN-PAH. Using human lung fibroblasts, we found increased stimulated Wnt activity in IPAH versus controls.
CONCLUSIONS - A pathway-based analysis of WES data in IPAH demonstrated multiple rare GVs that converge on key biological pathways, such as cytoskeletal function and Wnt signaling pathway. Vascular smooth muscle contraction-related genes were enriched in VR-PAH, suggesting a potentially different genetic predisposition for VR-PAH. This pathway-based approach may be applied to next-generation sequencing data in other diseases to uncover the contribution of unexpected or multiple GVs to a phenotype.