Calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) levels in plasma and the dorsal root ganglia (DRG) are increased during pregnancy and in ovariectomized rats injected with ovarian hormones. Vasodilatory responses to CGRP are also increased in these animals. In the present study, we hypothesized that pregnancy and ovarian hormones elevate the contents of CGRP in perivascular nerves. We assessed CGRP-dependent mesenteric vascular relaxation induced by electrical field stimulation (EFS) and arterial content of CGRP. Because the mesenteric artery represents resistance vessels, segments of mesenteric arteries collected from female rats at different stages of the estrous cycle, pregnancy, or postpartum and from male rats were used in this study. The EFS-induced relaxation in the presence and absence of CGRP8–37, an antagonist of CGRP, was used to measure CGRP-dependent relaxation, and radioimmunoassay (RIA) of tissue homogenates was used to assess changes in CGRP content in mesenteric branch arteries. The results show that CGRP-dependent, EFS-induced relaxation response was lower in female rats at diestrus and proestrus than in male rats, and no statistically significant differences were observed between Gestational Day 20 and Postpartum Day 2. The RIA revealed significantly lower mesenteric artery CGRP levels in female rats at proestrus, gestation, and postpartum than in female rats at diestrus or in male rats. We conclude that no correlation exists between CGRP-dependent, EFS-induced relaxation and CGRP content in the mesenteric arteries of these animal groups. Because both CGRP levels in DRG and serum are reported to be elevated, the reduced CGRP content in the vasculature during pregnancy and proestrus implicate enhanced basal release of CGRP at the nerve terminal in these animals.
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