Pre-eclampsia is a life-threatening pregnancy disorder whose pathogenesis remains unclear. Plasma testosterone levels are elevated in pregnant women with pre-eclampsia and polycystic ovary syndrome, who often develop gestational hypertension. We tested the hypothesis that increased gestational testosterone levels induce hypertension via heightened angiotensin II signaling. Pregnant Sprague-Dawley rats were injected with vehicle or testosterone propionate from Gestational Day 15 to 19 to induce a 2-fold increase in plasma testosterone levels, similar to levels observed in clinical conditions like pre-eclampsia. A subset of rats in these two groups was given losartan, an angiotensin II type 1 receptor antagonist by gavage during the course of testosterone exposure. Blood pressure levels were assessed through a carotid arterial catheter and endothelium-independent vascular reactivity through wire myography. Angiotensin II levels in plasma and angiotensin II type 1 receptor expression in mesenteric arteries were also examined. Blood pressure levels were significantly higher on Gestational Day 20 in testosterone-treated dams than in controls. Treatment with losartan during the course of testosterone exposure significantly attenuated testosterone-induced hypertension. Plasma angiotensin II levels were not significantly different between control and testosterone-treated rats; however, elevated testosterone levels significantly increased angiotensin II type 1 receptor protein levels in the mesenteric arteries. In testosterone-treated rats, mesenteric artery contractile responses to angiotensin II were significantly greater, whereas contractile responses to K depolarization and phenylephrine were unaffected. The results demonstrate that elevated testosterone during gestation induces hypertension in pregnant rats via heightened angiotensin II type 1 receptor-mediated signaling, providing a molecular mechanism linking elevated maternal testosterone levels with gestational hypertension.
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Vol. 91 • No. 1