There is growing evidence that microRNAs are implicated in pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), but underlying mechanisms remain elusive. Here, we identified that miR-223 was significantly downregulated in chronically hypoxic mouse and rat lungs, as well as in pulmonary artery and pulmonary artery smooth muscle cells (PASMC) exposed to hypoxia. Knockdown of miR-223 increased PASMC proliferation. In contrast, miR-223 overexpression abrogated cell proliferation, migration and stress fiber formation. Administering miR-223 agomir in vivo antagonized hypoxia-induced increase in pulmonary artery pressure and distal arteriole muscularization. RhoB, which was increased by hypoxia, was identified as one of the targets of miR-223. Overexpressed miR-223 suppressed RhoB and inhibited the consequent phosphorylation of myosin phosphatase target subunit (MYPT1) and the expression of myosin light chain of myosin II (MLC2), which was identified as another target of miR-223. Furthermore, serum miR-223 levels were decreased in female patients with PAH associated with congenital heart disease. Our study provides the first evidence that miR-223 can regulate PASMC proliferation, migration, and actomyosin reorganization through its novel targets, RhoB and MLC2, resulting in vascular remodeling and the development of PAH. It also highlights miR-223 as a potential circulating biomarker and a small molecule drug for diagnosis and treatment of PAH.
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