Soluble thrombomodulin plasma concentrations are elevated in steroid-resistant graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), implying endothelial hypofunctioning for thrombomodulin-dependent generation of activated protein C’s (APC) anticoagulant, anti-inflammatory, and antiapoptotic functions. Recombinant thrombomodulin or APC administration decreases acute GVHD, manifested by intense inflammation and tissue destruction. Here, we administered recombinant murine wild-type (WT) APC to mice with established chronic GVHD (cGVHD), a less-inflammatory autoimmune-like disease. WT APC normalized bronchiolitis obliterans–induced pulmonary dysfunction. Signaling-selective APC variants (3A-APC [APC with lysine 191-193 replaced with 3 alanines] or 5A-APC [APC with lysine 191-193 replaced with 3 alanines and arginine 229/230 replaced with 2 alanines]) with normal cytoprotective properties, but greatly reduced anticoagulant activity, provided similar results. Mechanistically, WT APC and signaling-selective variants reduced T follicular helper cells, germinal center formation, immunoglobulin, and collagen deposition. WT APC can potentially cleave protease-activated receptor 1 (PAR1) at Arg41 or Arg46, the latter causing anti-inflammatory signaling. cGVHD was reduced in recipients of T cells from WT PAR1 or mutated Gln41-PAR1 donors but not from mutated Gln46-PAR1 donors. These data implicate donor T-cell APC-induced noncanonical cleavage at Arg46-PAR1, which is known to confer cytoprotective and anti-inflammatory activities. Together, these data indicate that APC anticoagulant activity is dispensable, whereas anti-inflammatory signaling and cytoprotective cell signaling by APC are essential. Because a phase 2 ischemic stroke clinical trial did not raise any safety issues for 3A-APC treatment, our studies provide a foundational platform for testing in clinical cGVHD therapy.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported in part by National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute grant P01 CA142106 and National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases grant P01 AI056299 (B.R.B.), Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Translational Research grants 6458-15 and 6462-15 (B.R.B.), and National Institutes of Health, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute grants R01 HL052246, P01 HL031950, and R01 HL142975 (J.H.G.).