Nifedipine induces apoptosis in cultured vascular smooth muscle cells from spontaneously hypertensive rats
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Apoptosis (programmed cell death) of smooth muscle cells (SMC) in blood vessels is an essential process involved in the control of vessel wall structure. Several antihypertensive drugs currently used in therapy may exert their pharmacological effects by promoting SMC apoptosis. The biochemical events which regulate SMC apoptosis in the vessel wall are complex, and not well understood. We therefore investigated whether treatment of cultured SMC from normotensive Wistar-Kyoto rats (WKY) and from spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHR) with selected antihypertensive drugs would induce SMC apoptosis. We treated aortic SMC from WKY and SHR in vitro with the L-type Ca2+ channel antagonist, nifedipine; with the nitric oxide donor, sodium nitroprusside (SNAP); with forskolin (an activator of adenylyl cyclase); or with thapsigargin (a selective inhibitor of the sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR), Ca2+-ATPase); and compared their apoptosis-promoting effects in SMC derived from the two strains of rats. SMC were derived from the thoracic aorta of 3-4-week-old WKY and SHR, and were used in passages 7-10. Apoptotic cells were detected by in-situ end labeling using the terminal deoxynucleotide transferase-mediated dUTP-nick end-labeling (TUNEL) method, and by morphological examination. We found that: 1) Treatment of cultured aortic SMC with the L-type Ca2+ channel antagonist, nifedipine (5 X 10(-5) M) for 24 hours induced a significantly higher level of apoptosis in SHR cells than in SMC from WKY. Cells from WKY, following exposure to nifedipine for 72 hours, exhibited a similar response to the cells from SHR treated for 24 hours. This was detectable by both morphological criteria as well as DNA labeling by the TUNEL technique. 2) Similar treatment of these cells with thapsigargin (1 x 10(-7) M) led to morphological alterations characteristic of apoptotic cells in SMC from both WKY and SHR, and cells from SHR but not WKY were labeled by the TUNEL technique at 24 hours. The TUNEL method did however identify cells from both WKY and SHR as apoptotic after 48 and 72 hours of treatment. 3) The addition of SNAP, or forskolin to the cultured SMC induced significant, but low levels of apoptosis in WKY SMC only. This selective apoptosis-promoting effect of nifedipine in SHR SMC may result from differences in the control of intracellular Ca2+ between the two strains of cells, or it may indicate that the signaling pathways which regulate apoptosis are different in SMC from the normotensive and the hypertensive rats. Our findings imply that SMC apoptosis may be a selective target for pharmacological intervention in hypertension.
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