Gastrointestinal motility is reduced and the incidence of functional gastrointestinal disorders is increased in pregnancy, possibly due to hormonal influences. This study aims to clarify whether the hormone relaxin, which attains high circulating levels during pregnancy and has a nitric oxide-mediated relaxant action on vascular and uterine smooth muscle, also reduces bowel motility and, if it does, whether nitric oxide is involved. Female mice in proestrous or estrous were treated for 18 h with relaxin (1 μg s.c.) or vehicle (controls). Isolated ileal preparations from both groups were used to record contractile activity, either basal or after acute administration of relaxin (5 × 10−8 M). Drugs inhibiting nitric oxide biosynthesis or neurotransmission were used in combination with relaxin. Expression of nitric oxide synthase isoforms by the ileum was assessed by immunocytochemistry and Western blot analysis. Relaxin caused a clear-cut decay of muscle tension and a reduction in amplitude of spontaneous contractions upon either chronic administration to mice or acute addition to isolated ileal preparations. These effects were significantly blunted by NG-nitro-l-arginine, but not by the neural blockers we used. Moreover, relaxin increased the expression of nitric oxide synthases II and III, but not synthase I. Relaxin markedly inhibits ileal motility in mice by exerting a direct action on smooth muscle through the activation of intrinsic nitric oxide biosynthesis.
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