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Respir Res. 2009 Aug 14;10:76. doi: 10.1186/1465-9921-10-76.

Effects of cigarette smoke on endothelial function of pulmonary arteries in the guinea pig.

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Department of Pulmonary Medicine, Hospital Clínic-IDIBAPS, Barcelona, Spain.



Cigarette smoking may contribute to pulmonary hypertension in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease by altering the structure and function of pulmonary vessels at early disease stages. The objectives of this study were to evaluate the effects of long-term exposure to cigarette smoke on endothelial function and smooth muscle-cell proliferation in pulmonary arteries of guinea pigs.


19 male Hartley guinea pigs were exposed to the smoke of 7 cigarettes/day, 5 days/week, for 3 and 6 months. 17 control guinea pigs were sham-exposed for the same periods. Endothelial function was evaluated in rings of pulmonary artery and aorta as the relaxation induced by ADP. The proliferation of smooth muscle cells and their phenotype in small pulmonary vessels were evaluated by immunohistochemical expression of alpha-actin and desmin. Vessel wall thickness, arteriolar muscularization and emphysema were assessed morphometrically. The expression of endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS) was evaluated by Real Time-PCR.


Exposure to cigarette smoke reduced endothelium-dependent vasodilatation in pulmonary arteries (ANOVA p < 0.05) but not in the aorta. Endothelial dysfunction was apparent at 3 months of exposure and did not increase further after 6 months of exposure. Smoke-exposed animals showed proliferation of poorly differentiated smooth muscle cells in small vessels (p < 0.05) after 3 months of exposure. Prolonged exposure resulted in full muscularization of small pulmonary vessels (p < 0.05), wall thickening (p < 0.01) and increased contractility of the main pulmonary artery (p < 0.05), and enlargement of the alveolar spaces. Lung expression of eNOS was decreased in animals exposed to cigarette smoke.


In the guinea pig, exposure to cigarette smoke induces selective endothelial dysfunction in pulmonary arteries, smooth muscle cell proliferation in small pulmonary vessels and reduced lung expression of eNOS. These changes appear after 3 months of exposure and precede the development of pulmonary emphysema.

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