Human and rodent studies have demonstrated that calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), a potent vasodilator, relaxes uterine tissue during pregnancy but not during labor. The vascular sensitivity to CGRP is enhanced during pregnancy, compared to nonpregnant human uterine arteries. In the present study, we hypothesized that uterine artery relaxation effects of CGRP are enhanced in pregnant rats compared to nonpregnant diestrus rats (NP-DE) and that several secondary messenger systems are involved in this process. We also hypothesized that the expression of CGRP-A receptor components, calcitonin receptor-like receptor (CRLR), receptor activity-modifying protein (RAMP1), and CGRP-B receptors are greater in pregnant rats. For vascular relaxation studies, uterine arteries from either NP-DE or Day 18 pregnant rats were isolated, and responsiveness of the vessels to CGRP was examined with a small vessel myograph. CGRP-A and CGRP-B receptor expressions were assessed by RT-PCR and Western immunoblotting, respectively. CGRP (10–10–10–7 M) produced a concentration-dependent relaxation of norepinephrine-induced contractions in both NP-DE and Day 18 pregnant rat uterine arteries. Pregnancy increased the vasodilator sensitivity to CGRP significantly (P < 0.05) compared to NP-DE rats. CGRP receptor antagonist, CGRP8-37, inhibited CGRP-induced relaxation of pregnant uterine arteries. The CGRP-induced relaxation was not affected by NG-nitro-l-arginine methyl ester (L-NAME) (nitric oxide inhibitor, 10–4 M) but was significantly (P < 0.05) attenuated by inhibitors of guanylate cyclase (ODQ, 10–5 M) and adenylate cyclase (SQ 22536, 10–5 M). CGRP-induced vasorelaxation was significantly (P < 0.05) attenuated by potassium channel blockers KATP (glybenclamide, 10–5 M) and KCA (tetraethylammonium, 10–3 M). The expression of CRLR and RAMP1 was significantly (P < 0.05) elevated during pregnancy compared to nonpregnant diestrus state (NP-DE). However, CGRP-B receptor proteins in uterine arteries were not altered with pregnancy compared to those of NP-DE. These studies suggest that CGRP-induced increases in uterine artery relaxation may play a role in regulating blood flow to the uterus during pregnancy and, therefore, in fetal growth and survival.
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