Renal fibrosis is an important factor for end-stage renal failure. However, only few therapeutic options for its treatment are established. Zaprinast, a phosphodiesterase 5 inhibitor, and serelaxin, the recombinant form of the naturally occurring hormone relaxin, are differently acting modulators of cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP) signaling. Both agents enhance cGMP availability in kidney tissue. These substances alone or in combination might interfere with the development of kidney fibrosis. Therefore, we compared the effects of combination therapy with the effects of monotherapy on renal fibrosis. Renal fibrosis was induced by unilateral ureteral obstruction (UUO) for 7 days in wild-type (WT) and cGKI knockout (KO) mice. Renal antifibrotic effects were assessed after 7 days. In WT, zaprinast and the combination of zaprinast and serelaxin significantly reduced renal interstitial fibrosis assessed by α-SMA, fibronectin, collagen1A1, and gelatinases (MMP2 and MMP9). Intriguingly in cGKI-KO, mRNA and protein expression of fibronectin and collagen1A1 were reduced by zaprinast, in contrast to serelaxin. Gelatinases are not regulated by zaprinast. Although both substances showed similar antifibrotic properties in WT, they distinguished in their effect mechanisms. In contrast to serelaxin which acts both on Smad2 and Erk1, zaprinast did not significantly diminish Erk1/2 phosphorylation. Interestingly, the combination of serelaxin/zaprinast achieved no additive antifibrotic effects compared to the monotherapy. Due to antifibrotic effects of zaprinast in cGKI-KO, we hypothesize that additional cGKI-independent mechanisms are supposed for antifibrotic signaling of zaprinast.
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