Elevated testosterone levels during rat pregnancy cause hypersensitivity to angiotensin II and attenuation of endothelium-dependent vasodilation in uterine arteries

Hypertension. 2014 Aug;64(2):405-14. doi: 10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.114.03283. Epub 2014 May 19.


Elevated testosterone levels increase maternal blood pressure and decrease uterine blood flow in pregnancy, resulting in abnormal perinatal outcomes. We tested whether elevated testosterone alters uterine artery adaptations during pregnancy, and whether these alterations depend on endothelium-derived factors such as nitric oxide, endothelium-derived hyperpolarizing factor, and prostacyclin, or endothelium-independent mechanisms such as angiotensin II (Ang-II). Pregnant Sprague-Dawley rats were injected with vehicle (n=20) or testosterone propionate (0.5 mg/kg per day from gestation day 15 to 19; n=20). Plasma testosterone levels increased 2-fold in testosterone-injected rats compared with controls. Elevated testosterone significantly decreased placental and pup weights compared with controls. In endothelium-intact uterine arteries, contractile responses to thromboxane, phenylephrine, and Ang-II were greater in testosterone-treated rats compared with controls. In endothelium-denuded arteries, contractile responses to Ang-II (pD2=9.1±0.04 versus 8.7±0.04 in controls; P<0.05), but not thromboxane and phenylephrine, were greater in testosterone-treated rats. Ang-II type 1b receptor expression was increased, whereas Ang-II type 2 receptor was decreased in testosterone-exposed arteries. In endothelium-denuded arteries, relaxations to sodium nitroprusside were unaffected. Endothelium-dependent relaxation to acetylcholine was significantly lower in arteries from testosterone-treated dams (Emax=51.80±6.9% versus 91.98±1.4% in controls; P<0.05). The assessment of endothelial factors showed that nitric oxide-, endothelium-derived hyperpolarizing factor-, and prostacyclin-mediated relaxations were blunted in testosterone-treated dams. Endothelial nitric oxide synthase, small conductance calcium-activated potassium channel-3, and prostacyclin receptor expressions were significantly decreased in arteries from testosterone-treated dams. Hypoxia-inducible factor-1α, Ankrd37, and Egln were significantly increased in testosterone-exposed placentas. These results suggest that elevated maternal testosterone impairs uterine vascular function, which may lead to an increased vascular resistance and a decrease in uterine blood flow.

Keywords: endothelium-dependent hyperpolarization factor; fetal development; nitric oxide; prostacyclin; uterine artery; vasoconstriction; vasodilation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / pharmacology
  • Angiotensin II / pharmacology*
  • Animals
  • Blood Pressure / drug effects
  • Blood Pressure / physiology
  • Endothelium, Vascular / drug effects
  • Endothelium, Vascular / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Nitroprusside / pharmacology
  • Pregnancy
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Testosterone / blood*
  • Testosterone / pharmacology
  • Uterine Artery / drug effects
  • Uterine Artery / metabolism*
  • Vasodilation / drug effects
  • Vasodilation / physiology*


  • Angiotensin II
  • Nitroprusside
  • Testosterone
  • Acetylcholine