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Neutrophil elastase (NE) is implicated in pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) but the role of neutrophils in the pathogenesis of PAH is unclear. Here we show that neutrophils from PAH vs. control subjects produce and release increased NE associated with enhanced extracellular trap formation. PAH neutrophils are highly adherent and show decreased migration consistent with increased vinculin, identified on proteomic analysis and previously linked to an antiviral response. This was substantiated by a transcriptomic interferon signature in PAH neutrophils and an increase in human endogenous retrovirus (HERV-K) envelope protein. NE and interferon genes are induced by HERV-K envelope and vinculin is increased by HERV-K dUTPase that is elevated in PAH plasma. Neutrophil exosomes from PAH plasma contain increased NE and HERV-K envelope and induce pulmonary hypertension in mice, that is mitigated by the NE inhibitor and antiviral agent, elafin. Thus, elevated HERVs explain pathological neutrophils linked to PAH induction and progression.

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