The cAMP effectors PKA and Epac activate endothelial NO synthase through PI3K/Akt pathway in human endothelial cells
3′,5′-Cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) exerts an endothelium-dependent vasorelaxant action by stimulating endothelial NO synthase (eNOS) activity, and the subsequent NO release, through cAMP protein kinase (PKA) and exchange protein directly activated by cAMP (Epac) activation in endothelial cells. Here, we have investigated the mechanism by which the cAMP-Epac/PKA pathway activates eNOS. cAMP-elevating agents (forskolin and dibutyryl-cAMP) and the joint activation of PKA (6-Bnz-cAMP) and Epac (8-pCPT-2′-O-Me-cAMP) increased cytoplasmic Ca2+ concentration ([Ca2+]c) in ≤30% of fura-2-loaded isolated human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC). However, these drugs did not modify [Ca2+]c in fluo-4-loaded HUVEC monolayers. In DAF-2-loaded HUVEC monolayers, forskolin, PKA and Epac activators significantly increased NO release, and the forskolin effect was reduced by inhibition of PKA (Rp-cAMPs), Epac (ESI-09), eNOS (L-NAME) or phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K; LY-294,002). On the other hand, inhibition of CaMKII (KN-93), AMPK (Compound C), or total absence of Ca2+, was without effect. In Western blot experiments, Serine 1177 phosphorylated-eNOS was significantly increased in HUVEC by cAMP-elevating agents and PKA or Epac activators. In isolated rat aortic rings LY-294,002, but not KN-93 or Compound C, significantly reduced the vasorelaxant effects of forskolin in the presence of endothelium. Our results suggest that Epac and PKA activate eNOS via Ser 1177 phosphorylation by activating the PI3K/Akt pathway, and independently of AMPK or CaMKII activation or [Ca2+]c increase. This action explains, in part, the endothelium-dependent vasorelaxant effect of cAMP.