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J Nutr. 2009 Mar;139(3):447-51. doi: 10.3945/jn.108.097451. Epub 2009 Jan 28.

Salt inactivates endothelial nitric oxide synthase in endothelial cells.

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Department of Pediatrics, University of Kentucky Medical School, Lexington, KY 40536, USA.


There is a 1-4 mmol/L rise in plasma sodium concentrations in individuals with high salt intake and in patients with essential hypertension. In this study, we used 3 independent assays to determine whether such a small increase in sodium concentrations per se alters endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS) function and contributes to hypertension. By directly measuring NOS activity in living bovine aortic endothelial cells, we demonstrated that a 5-mmol/L increase in salt concentration (from 137 to 142 mmol/L) caused a 25% decrease in NOS activity. Importantly, the decrease in NOS activity was in a salt concentration-dependent manner. The NOS activity was decreased by 25, 45, and 70%, with the increase of 5, 10, and 20 mmol/L of NaCl, respectively. Using Chinese hamster ovary cells stably expressing eNOS, we confirmed the inhibitory effects of salt on eNOS activity. The eNOS activity was unaffected in the presence of equal milliosmol of mannitol, which excludes an osmotic effect. Using an ex vivo aortic angiogenesis assay, we demonstrated that salt attenuated the nitric oxide (NO)-dependent proliferation of endothelial cells. By directly monitoring blood pressure changes in response to salt infusion, we found that in vivo infusion of salt induced an acute increase in blood pressure in a salt concentration-dependent manner. In conclusion, our findings demonstrated that eNOS is sensitive to changes in salt concentration. A 5-mmol/L rise in salt concentration, within the range observed in essential hypertension patients or in individuals with high salt intake, could significantly suppress eNOS activity. This salt-induced reduction in NO generation in endothelial cells may contribute to the development of hypertension.

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