Chronic ouabain treatment exacerbates blood pressure elevation in spontaneously hypertensive rats: the role of vascular mechanisms

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Hypertensive rats are more sensitive to the pressor effects of acute ouabain than normotensive rats. We analyzed the effect of chronic ouabain (∼8.0 μg/day, 5 weeks) treatment on the blood pressure of spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHRs) and Wistar–Kyoto rats and the contribution of vascular mechanisms.


Responses to acetylcholine and phenylephrine were analyzed in isolated tail arteries. Protein expression of endothelial nitric oxide synthase and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) were also investigated.


Ouabain treatment enhanced blood pressure only in SHRs. The pD2 for acetylcholine was decreased in arteries from SHRs compared with Wistar–Kyoto rats, and ouabain did not change this parameter. However, ouabain was able to increase the pD2 to phenylephrine in SHRs. Nitric oxide synthase inhibition with NG-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester or potassium channel blockade by tetraetylamonium increased the response to phenylephrine in SHRs, with a smaller increase in response observed in ouabain-treated SHRs. In addition, indomethacin (a COX inhibitor) and ridogrel (a thromboxane A2 synthase inhibitor and prostaglandin H2/thromboxane A2 receptor antagonist) decreased contraction to phenylephrine in tail rings from ouabain-treated SHRs. Protein expression of endothelial nitric oxide synthase was unaltered following ouabain treatment in SHRs, whereas COX-2 expression was increased.


Chronic ouabain treatment further increases the raised blood pressure of SHRs. This appears to involve a vascular mechanism, related to a reduced vasodilator influence of nitric oxide and endothelium-derived hyperpolarizing factor and increased production of vasoconstrictor prostanoids by COX-2. These data suggest that the increased plasma levels of ouabain could play an important role in the maintenance of hypertension and the impairment of endothelial function.

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