Insufficient autophagy has been proposed as a mechanism of cellular aging, as this leads to the accumulation of dysfunctional macromolecules and organelles. Premature vascular aging occurs in hypertension. In fact, many factors that contribute to the deterioration of vascular function as we age are accelerated in clinical and experimental hypertension. Previously, we have reported decreased autophagy in arteries from spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHRs); however, the effects of restoring autophagic activity on blood pressure and vascular function are currently unknown. We hypothesized that reconstitution of arterial autophagy in SHRs would decrease blood pressure and improve endothelium-dependent relaxation. We treated 14- to 18-wk-old Wistar rats (n = 7 vehicle and n = 8 trehalose) and SHRs (n = 7/group) with autophagy activator trehalose (2% in drinking water) for 28 days. Blood pressure was measured by radiotelemetry, and vascular function and structure were measured in isolated mesenteric resistance arteries (MRAs) using wire and pressure myographs, respectively. Treatment with trehalose had no effect on blood pressure in SHRs; however, isolated MRAs presented enhanced relaxation to acetylcholine, in a cyclooxygenase- and reactive oxygen species-dependent manner. Similarly, trehalose treatment shifted the relaxation to the Rho kinase (ROCK) inhibitor Y-27632 to the right, indicating reduced ROCK activity. Finally, trehalose treatment decreased arterial stiffness as indicated by the slope of the stress-strain curve. Overall these data indicate that reconstitution of arterial autophagy in SHRs improves endothelial and vascular smooth muscle function, which could synergize to prevent stiffening. As a result, restoration of autophagic activity could be a novel therapeutic for premature vascular aging in hypertension.NEW & NOTEWORTHY This work supports the concept that diminished arterial autophagy contributes to premature vascular aging in hypertension and that therapeutic reconstitution of autophagic activity can ameliorate this phenotype. As vascular age is a new clinically used index for cardiovascular risk, understanding this mechanism may assist in the development of new drugs to prevent premature vascular aging in hypertension.
Keywords: arterial stiffening; autophagy; hypertension; vascular aging; vascular function.