Formation of nitric oxide (NO) by the endothelial NO-synthase (eNOS) is a central process in the homeostatic regulation of vascular functions including blood pressure regulation and fluid shear stress exerted by the flowing blood is a main stimulus of eNOS activity. Previous work has identified several mechanosensing and -transducing processes in endothelial cells, which mediate this process and result in the stimulation of eNOS activity through phosphorylation of the enzyme via various kinases including AKT. How the initial mechanosensing and signaling processes are linked to eNOS phosphorylation is unclear. In human endothelial cells, we demonstrated that protein kinase N2 (PKN2), which is activated by flow through the mechanosensitive cation channel Piezo1 and Gq/G11-mediated signaling, as well as Ca2+ and PDK1, plays a pivotal role in this process. Active PKN2 promoted phosphorylation of human eNOS at serine 1177 and at a newly identified site, serine 1179. These phosphorylation events additively led to increased eNOS activity. PKN2-mediated eNOS phosphorylation at serine 1177 involved phosphorylation of AKT synergistically with mTORC2-mediated AKT phosphorylation while active PKN2 directly phosphorylated human eNOS at serine 1179. Mice with induced endothelium-specific deficiency of PKN2 showed strongly reduced flow-induced vasodilation and developed arterial hypertension accompanied by reduced eNOS activation. These results uncover a central mechanism that couples upstream mechanosignaling processes in endothelial cells to the regulation of eNOS-mediated NO formation, vascular tone and blood pressure.
Young-June Jin, Ramesh Chennupati, Rui Li, Guozheng Liang, ShengPeng Wang, András Iring, Johannes Graumann, Nina Wettschureck, Stefan Offermanns