Endothelins are potent vasoconstrictors, and may also act as mitogens and hypertrophic agents. Expression of a member of this family of peptides, endothelin-1, is enhanced in the endothelium of blood vessels of rats with severe forms of hypertension, even in the absence of elevated plasma endothelin levels. In some of these hypertensive models enhanced endothelin-1 gene expression may contribute to vascular hypertrophy of small arteries and to elevation of blood pressure.
To establish whether endothelin-1 may play a role in essential hypertension in humans, in whom plasma levels are known to be usually within normal limits, by examining the expression of the endothelin-1 gene in resistance-size arteries of normotensive subjects, and in humans with mild and severe hypertension.
Using in-situ hybridization, the abundance of endothelin-1 messenger RNA transcripts was evaluated in small arteries of subcutaneous gluteal fat obtained by biopsy in normotensive and hypertensive patients.
Vessels from five normotensive subjects and four untreated mild essential hypertensive patients did not exhibit topographically localized specific labeling with the antisense human endothelin-1 probe. Biopsies from four untreated hypertensive patients with moderate-to- severe blood pressure elevation, in contrast, showed a heavy density of grains on endothelial cells of small arteries of gluteal subcutaneous fat, corresponding to hybridization of the antisense human endothelin-1 complementary RNA probe with endothelin-1 messenger RNA.
Some patients with moderate-to-severe essential hypertension, similar to some experimental rat models with severe blood pressure elevation, exhibit enhanced endothelial expression of the endothelin-1 gene. This is the first demonstration that overexpression of the endothelin-1 gene may occur in the vascular wall in a small sample of this subset of hypertensive patients. This pathophysiologic phenomenon could play a role in blood pressure elevation and perhaps in the pathogenesis of vascular hypertrophy. Treatment with endothelin receptor antagonists may offer a novel therapy for these moderate-to-severe hypertensive patients.