Journal of applied physiology (Bethesda, Md. : 1985)

Protective effect of sex on chronic stress- and depressive behavior-induced vascular dysfunction in BALB/cJ mice.

PMID 25123201


The presence of chronic, unresolvable stresses leads to negative health outcomes, including development of clinical depression/depressive disorders, with outcome severity being correlated with depressive symptom severity. One of the major outcomes associated with chronic stress and depression is the development of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and an elevated CVD risk profile. However, in epidemiological research, sex disparities are evident, with premenopausal women suffering from depressive symptoms more acutely than men, but also demonstrating a relative protection from the onset of CVD. Given this, we investigated the differential effect of sex on conduit artery and resistance arteriolar function in male and female mice following 8 wk of an unpredictable chronic mild stress (UCMS) protocol. In males, plasma cortisol and depressive symptom severity (e.g., coat status, anhedonia, delayed grooming) were elevated by UCMS. Endothelium-dependent dilation to methacholine/acetylcholine was impaired in conduit arteries and skeletal muscle arterioles, suggesting a severe loss of nitric oxide bioavailability and increased production of thromboxane A2 vs. prostaglandin I2 associated with elevated reactive oxygen species (ROS) and an increased level of systemic inflammation. Endothelium-independent dilation was intact. In females, depressive symptoms and plasma cortisol increases were more severe than in males, although alterations to vascular reactivity were blunted, including the effects of elevated ROS and inflammation on dilator responses. These results suggest that compared with males, female rats are more susceptible to chronic stress in terms of the severity of depressive behaviors, but that the subsequent development of vasculopathy is blunted owing to an improved ability to tolerate elevated ROS and systemic inflammatory stress.