Normal pregnancy is characterized by a significant reduction in total peripheral vascular resistance and decreased pressor responsiveness to vasodilator agents. This review will consider whether nitric oxide (NO) contributes to these changes, and whether a deficiency of NO produces a preeclampsia like syndrome. The biosynthesis of NO increases in pregnant animals, as assessed by the raised plasma concentration, urinary excretion and metabolic production rate of guanosine 3',5'-cyclic monophosphate (cGMP), the second messenger of NO. In addition, urinary excretion of nitrate, the stable metabolites of NO, increases during pregnancy, paralleling the rise in cGMP. Several studies provide convincing evidence indicating that expression and activity of different NO synthases (NOS) are increased in gravid animals. Acute blockade of NOS causes a dose response increase in blood pressure and reverses the blunted vasopressor response to vasoconstrictor agents. Long-term NOS inhibition produces a pre-eclampsia like syndrome, characterized by maternal hypertension, proteinuria, thrombocytopenia, and renal damage, and lower litter size and fetal weight. Both acute and chronic responses are reduced when L-arginine, the substrate for NOS, is administered in high doses, indicating that these changes are specific to NO inhibition. In conclusion, present data suggest that a disturbance in NO release may contribute to the pathogenesis of pre-eclampsia.
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