Background: Pulmonary hypertension is characterized by abnormal thickening of the pulmonary arteries and increased pulmonary vascular resistance. Nitric oxide is a potent endothelium-derived vasorelaxant substance and an inhibitor of smooth-muscle-cell growth. Nitric oxide is produced in various cell types by the action of an enzyme, nitric oxide synthase. We compared the expression of endothelial nitric oxide synthase in the lungs of control subjects with that in the lungs of patients with pulmonary hypertension.
Methods: We investigated the expression of endothelial nitric oxide synthase by histochemical and immunohistochemical analysis, in situ hybridization, and Northern blot analysis in the lungs of 22 patients with plexogenic pulmonary arteriopathy (arteriopathy of grades 4 through 6), 24 patients with secondary pulmonary hypertension (arteriopathy of grades 1 through 3), and 23 control subjects.
Results: In the lungs of the control subjects, nitric oxide synthase was expressed at a high level in the vascular endothelium of all types of vessels and in the pulmonary epithelium. In contrast, little or no expression of the enzyme was found in the vascular endothelium of pulmonary arteries with severe histologic abnormalities (i.e., plexiform lesions) in patients with pulmonary hypertension. The intensity of the enzyme immunoreactivity correlated inversely with the severity of histologic changes. There was an inverse correlation between the arterial expression of the enzyme and total pulmonary resistance in patients with plexogenic pulmonary arteriopathy (r = -0.766, P = 0.004).
Conclusions: Pulmonary hypertension is associated with diminished expression of endothelial nitric oxide synthase. It is possible that decreased expression of nitric oxide synthase may contribute to pulmonary vasoconstriction and to the excessive growth of the tunica media observed in this disease.