In the systemic circulation, 11,12-epoxyeicosatrienoic acid (11,12-EET) elicits nitric oxide (NO)- and prostacyclin-independent vascular relaxation, partially through the activation of large conductance Ca(2+)-activated potassium (BK) channels. However, in the lung 11,12-EET contributes to hypoxia-induced pulmonary vasoconstriction. Since pulmonary artery smooth muscle cells also express BK channels, we assessed the consequences of BKβ(1) subunit deletion on pulmonary responsiveness to 11,12-EET as well as to acute hypoxia. In buffer-perfused mouse lungs, hypoxia increased pulmonary artery pressure and this was significantly enhanced in the presence of NO synthase (NOS) and cyclooxygenase (COX) inhibitors. Under these conditions the elevation of tissue EET levels using an inhibitor of the soluble epoxide hydrolase (sEH-I), further increased the hypoxic contraction. Direct administration of 11,12-EET also increased pulmonary artery pressure, and both the sEH-I and 11,12-EET effects were prevented by iberiotoxin and absent in BKβ(1)(-/-) mice. In pulmonary artery smooth muscle cells treated with NOS and COX inhibitors and loaded with the potentiometric dye, di-8-ANEPPS, 11,12-EET induced depolarization while the BK channel opener NS1619 elicited hyperpolarization indicating there was no effect of the EET on classical plasma membrane BK channels. In pulmonary artery smooth muscle cells a subpopulation of BK channels is localized in mitochondria. In these cells, 11,12-EET elicited an iberiotoxin-sensitive loss of mitochondrial membrane potential (JC-1 fluorescence) leading to plasma membrane depolarization, an effect not observed in BKβ(1)(-/-) cells. Mechanistically, stimulation with 11,12-EET time-dependently induced the association of the BK α and β(1) subunits. Our data indicate that in the absence of NO and prostacyclin 11,12-EET contributes to pulmonary vasoconstriction by stimulating the association of the α and β(1) subunits of mitochondrial BK channels. The 11,12-EET-induced activation of BK channels results in loss of the mitochondrial membrane potential and depolarization of the pulmonary artery smooth muscle cells.
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