Parasympathetic activity is often reduced in hypertension and can elicit anti-inflammatory mechanisms. Thus we hypothesized that chronic vagal nerve stimulation (VNS) may alleviate cardiovascular end-organ damage in stroke-prone spontaneously hypertensive rats. Vagal nerve stimulators were implanted, a high-salt diet initiated, and the stimulators turned on (VNS, n = 10) or left off (sham, n = 14) for 4 wk. Arterial pressure increased equally in both groups. After 4 wk, endothelial function, assessed by in vivo imaging of the long posterior ciliary artery (LPCA) after stimulation (pilocarpine) and inhibition (Nω-nitro-l-arginine methyl ester) of endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS), had significantly declined (−2.3 ± 1.2 μm, P < 0.05) in sham, but was maintained (−0.7 ± 0.8 μm, nonsignificant) in VNS. Furthermore, aortic eNOS activation (phosphorylated to total eNOS protein content ratio) was greater in VNS (0.83 ± 0.07) than in sham (0.47 ± 0.08, P < 0.05). After only 3 wk, ultrasound imaging of the aorta demonstrated decreased aortic strain (−9.7 ± 2.2%, P < 0.05) and distensibility (−2.39 ± 0.49 1,000/mmHg, P < 0.05) and increased pulse-wave velocity (+2.4 ± 0.7 m/s, P < 0.05) in sham but not in VNS (−3.8 ± 3.8%, −0.70 ± 1.4 1,000/mmHg, and +0.1 ± 0.7 m/s, all nonsignificant). Interleukin (IL)-6 serum concentrations tended to be higher in VNS than in sham (34.3 ± 8.3 vs. 16.1 ± 4.6 pg/ml, P = 0.06), and positive correlations were found between NO-dependent relaxation of the LPCA and serum levels of IL-6 (r = +0.70, P < 0.05) and IL-10 (r = +0.56, P < 0.05) and between aortic eNOS activation and IL-10 (r = +0.48, P < 0.05). In conclusion, chronic VNS prevents hypertension-induced endothelial dysfunction and aortic stiffening in an animal model of severe hypertension. We speculate that anti-inflammatory mechanisms may contribute to these effects.
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- cardiovascular end-organ damage
- nitric oxide-dependent relaxation
- aortic distensibility
- aortic pulse-wave velocity
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