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Stroke. 2002 Dec;33(12):2992-8.

Altered vascular function in fetal programming of hypertension.

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Research Center, Hôpital Sainte-Justine, Department of Pediatrics and Pharmacology, Université de Montréal, Montreal, Canada.



Reduced endothelium-dependent vasorelaxation partly due to loss of nitric oxide (NO) bioavailability occurs in most cases of chronic hypertension. Intrauterine nutritional deprivation has been associated with increased risk for hypertension and stroke, associated with relaxant dysfunction and decreased vascular compliance, but the underlying mechanisms are not known. The present studies were undertaken to investigate whether endothelial dysfunction associated with altered NO-dependent vasodilatation pathways is also observed in a model of in utero programming of hypertension.


Pregnant Wistar rats were fed a normal (18%), low (9%), or very low (6%) protein isocaloric diet during gestation. Vasomotor response of resistance cerebral microvessels (<50 micro m) was studied in adult offspring of dams fed the 18% and 9% protein diets by a video imaging technique. Endothelial NOS (eNOS), soluble guanylate cyclase (sGC), and K(Ca) channel expression were measured by Western blot. NO synthase (NOS) activity was measured enzymatically as well as in situ by NADPH diaphorase staining.


Litter size and survival to adulthood were not affected by the diets. Birth weights of offspring of dams fed the 6% diet were markedly lower than those of dams fed the 9% diet, which were marginally lower than those of controls. Systolic blood pressures of adult offspring of mothers in the 6% and 9% groups were comparably greater (156+/-2 and 155+/-1 mm Hg, respectively) than that of control offspring (137+/-1 mm Hg); we therefore focused on the 9% and 18% groups. Cerebral microvessel constriction to thromboxane A(2) mimetic and dilation to carba-prostaglandin I(2) did not differ between diet groups. In contrast, vasorelaxation to the NO-dependent agents substance P and acetylcholine was diminished by 50% in low protein-exposed offspring, but eNOS expression and activity were similar between the 2 diet groups. Vasorelaxant response to the NO donor sodium nitroprusside was also decreased and was associated with reduced (by 50% to 65%) cGMP levels and sGC expression. cGMP analogues caused comparable vasorelaxation in the 2 groups. Expression of K(Ca) (another important mediator of NO action) and relaxation to the K(Ca) opener NS1619 were unchanged by antenatal diet.


Maternal protein deprivation, which leads to hypertension in the offspring, is associated with diminished NO-dependent relaxation of major organ (cerebral) microvasculature, which seems to be largely attributed to decreased sGC expression and cGMP levels. The study provides an additional explanation for abnormal vasorelaxation in nutrient-deprived subjects in utero.

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