Traditionally associated with female reproduction, oxytocin (OT) was revisited recently and was revealed to have several new roles in the cardiovascular system. Functional OT receptors have been discovered in the rat and human heart, as well as in vascular beds. The cardiovascular activities of OT include: (i) lowering blood pressure; (ii) negative cardiac inotropy and chronotropy; (iii) parasympathetic neuromodulation; (iv) vasodilatation; (v) anti-inflammatory; (vi) antioxidative; and (vii) metabolic effects. These outcomes are mediated, at least in part, by stimulating cardioprotective mediators, such as nitric oxide and atrial natriuretic peptide. OT and its extended form OT-Gly-Lys-Arg have been shown to be abundant in the foetal mouse heart. OT has the capacity to generate cardiomyocytes from various types of stem cells, including the cardiac side population. Mesenchymal cells transfected with OT-Gly-Lys-Arg, or preconditioned with OT, are resistant to apoptosis and express endothelial cell markers. OT increases glucose uptake in cultured cardiomyocytes from newborn and adult rats, in normal, hypoxic and even insulin resistance conditions. In rats with experimentally-induced myocardial infarction, continuous in vivo OT delivery improves the cardiac healing process, as well as cardiac work, reduces inflammation and stimulates angiogenesis. Therefore, in pathological conditions, OT exerts anti-inflammatory and cardioprotective properties, and improves vascular and metabolic functions. Thus, OT has potential for therapeutic use.
© 2011 The Authors. Journal of Neuroendocrinology © 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.