Nitric oxide (NO), synthesized from l-arginine by NO synthase (NOS), is a key regulator of placental angiogenesis and growth during pregnancy. However, little is known about placental NO synthesis associated with ovine conceptus development. This study was conducted to test the hypothesis that placental NO synthesis is greatest during early gestation. Columbia cross-bred ewes were hysterectomized on Days 30, 40, 60, 80, 100, 120, or 140 of gestation (n = 4 per day) to obtain placentomes, intercotyledonary placenta, and intercaruncular endometrium. Tissues were analyzed for constitutive NOS (cNOS) and inducible NOS (iNOS) activities, NO synthesis, tetrahydrobiopterin (BH4) and NADPH (essential cofactors for NOS), and GTP-cyclohydrolase I (GTP-CH, a rate-controlling enzyme in de novo synthesis of BH4) activity using radiochemical and chromatographic methods. Marked changes in NO synthesis, cNOS and iNOS activities, GTP-CH activity, and concentrations of BH4 and NADPH occurred in all placental and endometrial tissues between Days 30 and 140 of gestation. NO synthesis peaked on Day 60 of gestation in both intercotyledonary placenta and placentomes and on Days 40–60 in intercaruncular endometrium. NO synthesis in placentomes increased 100% between Days 80 and 100 of gestation, when placental and uterine blood flows increase continuously. In all placental and endometrial tissues, NO synthesis was positively correlated with total NOS activity, GTP-CH activity, and concentrations of BH4 and NADPH. Importantly, these results indicate a high degree of metabolic coordination among the several integrated pathways that support high rates of NO synthesis in the conceptus and uterus and establish a new base of information for future studies to define the roles of NO in fetal-placental growth and development.
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