Placental blood flow, nitric-oxide (NO) levels, and endothelial NO synthase (eNOS) expression increase during human and ovine pregnancy. Shear stress stimulates NO production and eNOS expression in ovine fetoplacental artery endothelial (OFPAE) cells. Because eNOS is the rate-limiting enzyme essential for NO synthesis, its activity and expression are both closely regulated. We investigated signaling mechanisms underlying pulsatile shear stress-induced increases in eNOS phosphorylation and protein expression by OFPAE cells. The OFPAE cells were cultured at 3 dynes/cm2 shear stress, then exposed to 15 dynes/cm2 shear stress. Western blot analysis for phosphorylated ERK1/2, Akt, p38 mitogen activated protein kinase (MAPK), and eNOS showed that shear stress rapidly increased phosphorylation of ERK1/2 and Akt but not of p38 MAPK. Phosphorylation of eNOS Ser1177 under shear stress was elevated by 20 min, a response that was blocked by the phosphatidyl inositol-3-kinase (PI-3K)-inhibitors wortmannin and LY294002 but not by the mitogen activated protein kinase kinase (MEK)-inhibitor UO126. Basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF) enhanced eNOS protein levels in static culture via a MEK-mediated mechanism, but it could not further augment the elevated eNOS protein levels otherwise induced by the 15 dynes/cm2 shear stress. Blockade of either signaling pathway changed the shear stress-induced increase in eNOS protein levels. In conclusion, shear stress induced rapid eNOS phosphorylation on Ser1177 in OFPAE cells through a PI-3K-dependent pathway. The bFGF-induced rise in eNOS protein levels in static culture was much less than those observed under flow and was blocked by inhibition of MEK. Prolonged shear stress-stimulated increases in eNOS protein were not affected by inhibition of MEK- or PI-3K-mediated pathways.
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