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Vascular mechanisms of increased arterial pressure in preeclampsia: lessons from animal models.

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  • 1Department of Physiology and Biophysics, University of Mississippi Medical Center, 2500 North State Street, Jackson, MS 39216-4505, USA.


Normal pregnancy is associated with reductions in total vascular resistance and arterial pressure possibly due to enhanced endothelium-dependent vascular relaxation and decreased vascular reactivity to vasoconstrictor agonists. These beneficial hemodynamic and vascular changes do not occur in women who develop preeclampsia; instead, severe increases in vascular resistance and arterial pressure are observed. Although preeclampsia represents a major cause of maternal and fetal morbidity and mortality, the vascular and cellular mechanisms underlying this disorder have not been clearly identified. Studies in hypertensive pregnant women and experimental animal models suggested that reduction in uteroplacental perfusion pressure and the ensuing placental ischemia/hypoxia during late pregnancy may trigger the release of placental factors that initiate a cascade of cellular and molecular events leading to endothelial and vascular smooth muscle cell dysfunction and thereby increased vascular resistance and arterial pressure. The reduction in uterine perfusion pressure and the ensuing placental ischemia are possibly caused by inadequate cytotrophoblast invasion of the uterine spiral arteries. Placental ischemia may promote the release of a variety of biologically active factors, including cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor-alpha and reactive oxygen species. Threshold increases in the plasma levels of placental factors may lead to endothelial cell dysfunction, alterations in the release of vasodilator substances such as nitric oxide (NO), prostacyclin (PGI(2)), and endothelium-derived hyperpolarizing factor, and thereby reductions of the NO-cGMP, PGI(2)-cAMP, and hyperpolarizing factor vascular relaxation pathways. The placental factors may also increase the release of or the vascular reactivity to endothelium-derived contracting factors such as endothelin, thromboxane, and ANG II. These contracting factors could increase intracellular Ca(2+) concentrations ([Ca(2+)](i)) and stimulate Ca(2+)-dependent contraction pathways in vascular smooth muscle. The contracting factors could also increase the activity of vascular protein kinases such as protein kinase C, leading to increased myofilament force sensitivity to [Ca(2+)](i) and enhancement of smooth muscle contraction. The decreased endothelium-dependent mechanisms of vascular relaxation and the enhanced mechanisms of vascular smooth muscle contraction represent plausible causes of the increased vascular resistance and arterial pressure associated with preeclampsia.

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