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Am J Physiol. 1994 Nov;267(5 Pt 2):H1921-7.

Hypoxia inhibits expression of eNOS via transcriptional and posttranscriptional mechanisms.

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Department of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115.

Erratum in

  • 1995 Jun;268(6 Pt 3):section H followi.
  • Am J Physiol 1995 Feb;268(2 Pt 2):section H following table of contents.


Normal blood vessel tone is maintained by a balance of vasoconstrictors and vasodilators produced by endothelial cells in the vasculature. Nitric oxide (NO) is a potent vasodilator that causes vascular smooth muscle cell relaxation by elevating intracellular guanosine 3',5'-cyclic monophosphate (cGMP) levels. The physiological mechanisms regulating NO production in the vasculature are not completely understood. We report here that production of this vasodilator by vascular endothelial cells can be significantly suppressed by hypoxia. Exposing human endothelial cells to low PO2 results in 40-60% reduction in the steady-state mRNA levels of endothelial constitutive NO synthase (eNOS), the major enzyme responsible for NO production in these cells. The lower levels of eNOS mRNA result from decreased transcription of the gene as well as reduced message stability. In endothelial-smooth muscle cell co-culture experiments, hypoxic endothelial cells stimulated significantly less cGMP production by smooth muscle cells than the corresponding normoxic controls. This inhibitory effect of hypoxia on NOS production by endothelial cells occurs after 24 h of hypoxia and persists for at least 48 h. These new findings suggest that hypoxia might cause changes in blood vessel tone through compound mechanisms: by increasing the production of endothelium-derived vasoconstrictors and, as shown here, by suppressing the production of vasodilators like NO.

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