Uterine artery myogenic tone (MT) develops during pregnancy in hemochorial placentates such as rats and humans. The physiological reason for its appearance is not clear, and we reasoned that it may be a late pregnancy (LP) event in preparation for controlling hemorrhage during parturition. We also hypothesized that gestational increases in RhoA-induced vascular smooth muscle (VSM) calcium sensitivity are contributory and occur under the tonic influence of nitric oxide (NO). Second-order pre-placental radial arteries from early-pregnant (day 12, n = 5), mid-pregnant (day 16, n = 5) and LP (day 20, n = 20) rats were used in combination with arteriography, VSM calcium measurements, pharmacological RHO/Rho-associated protein kinase (ROCK) and nitric oxide synthase (NOS) inhibition, and Western blotting. A subgroup of LP animals (LP + LN; n = 5) treated with L-NAME from gestational days 10 to 20 were used to determine the effects of NOS inhibition on MT and RhoA expression. MT was evident throughout pregnancy, but its expression in pressurized vessels was masked by endothelial NO-induced vasodilation during early gestation. RhoA protein expression was upregulated in LP and attenuated by in vivo NOS inhibition (as was MT). In vitro RHO/ROCK inhibition decreased MT in a concentration-dependent manner without reducing VSM calcium. In summary, pressure-dependent uterine artery tone increases with gestational age due to a combination of RhoA-mediated increases in VSM calcium sensitivity and a loss of endothelial NO influence.
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