Relaxin as a therapeutic haemodynamic modulator in liver disease
Snowdon, Victoria Katherine
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Introduction: Hepatorenal syndrome (HRS) is a common complication of advanced cirrhosis with a high mortality rate and limited treatment options. Central to its pathogenesis is severe, but potentially reversible, renal vasoconstriction leading to functional renal failure. Current pharmacological treatment using splanchnic vasoconstrictors is suboptimal and prognosis without liver transplantation is dismal. The peptide hormone relaxin (RLN) mediates haemodynamic adaptations to pregnancy including increased renal blood flow (RBF) and glomerular filtration rate (GFR). I hypothesised that exogenous RLN could be used therapeutically to improve RBF and renal function in the context of experimental cirrhosis and HRS. Methods: To address this I generated pathologically distinct rat models of liver cirrhosis with features of human HRS including renal vasoconstriction and renal failure. Compensated cirrhosis was induced in male rats by 16 weeks of i.p. carbon tetrachloride (CCl4) and decompensated cirrhosis by bile duct ligation (BDL). I studied the effects of acute i.v. or sustained (72 hr) s.c. infusion of RLN compared with vehicle on systemic haemodynamics, RBF, GFR and kidney histology. I used blood oxygen dependent-magnetic resonance imaging (BOLD-MRI) to detect changes in kidney parenchymal oxygenation and Doppler ultrasound to monitor changes in RBF (velocity time integral, VTI) and renal arterial resistance (resistive index, RI). Hepatic and renal expression of the relaxin receptor RXFP1 was determined by quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) and immunohistochemistry (IHC). Vascular functional responses in isolated renal arteries were assessed by wire myography. Relaxin mediated changes in key vaso-regulatory signalling pathways in the kidney and renal vessels were analysed by qPCR, IHC and ELISA. Results: I showed using in vitro myography that the pathophysiological mechanism that underlies renal vasoconstriction in experimental cirrhosis models is an impairment of endothelium-dependent vasodilatation. Selective targeting of renal vasoconstriction using relaxin improved renal blood flow, tissue oxygenation, and normalized glomerular filtration rate in both compensated and decompensated rat cirrhosis. Furthermore, relaxin treatment restored endothelium-dependent vasodilation in isolated renal vessels from CCl4 cirrhotic rats. Relaxin-induced effects on renal blood flow and glomerular filtration rate were mediated though activation of the AKT/eNOS/nitric oxide signalling pathway in kidney, though systemic nitric oxide levels were unaffected. Crucially for human translation, relaxin did not reduce mean arterial blood pressure even in advanced cirrhosis. Conclusion: My findings identify relaxin as the first potential targeted treatment reversing the vascular dysfunction which causes HRS and directly improving renal function in HRS. Clinical translation in carefully selected populations is warranted.