Purpose of review
Endothelial dysfunction is a major risk factor for many cardiovascular diseases, notably hypertension. Obesity increases the risk of endothelial dysfunction in association with increasing production of the adipokine leptin. Preclinical studies have begun to unravel the mechanisms whereby leptin leads to the development of endothelial dysfunction, which are sex-specific. This review will summarize recent findings of mechanisms of leptin-induced endothelial impairment in both male and females and in pregnancy.
Leptin receptors are found in high concentrations in the central nervous system (CNS), via which leptin promotes appetite suppression and upregulates sympathetic nervous system activation. However, leptin receptors are expressed in many other tissues, including the vascular endothelial cells and smooth muscle cells. Recent studies in mice with vascular endothelial or smooth muscle-specific knockdown demonstrate that endothelial leptin receptor activation plays a protective role against endothelial dysfunction in male animals, but not necessarily in females. Clinical studies indicate that women may be more sensitive to obesity-associated vascular endothelial dysfunction. Emerging preclinical data indicates that leptin and progesterone increase aldosterone production and endothelial mineralocorticoid receptor activation, respectively. Furthermore, decades of clinical studies indicate that leptin levels increase in the hypertensive pregnancy disorder preeclampsia, which is characterized by systemic endothelial dysfunction. Leptin infusion in mice induces the clinical characteristics of preeclampsia, including endothelial dysfunction.
Novel preclinical data indicate that the mechanisms whereby leptin promotes endothelial dysfunction are sex-specific. Leptin-induced endothelial dysfunction may also play a role in hypertensive pregnancy as well.