Leptin regulates body weight, reproductive functions, blood pressure, endothelial function, and fetoplacental angiogenesis. Compared to the luteal phase, the follicular phase and pregnancy are physiological states of elevated estrogen, angiogenesis, and uterine blood flow (UBF). Little is known concerning regulation of uterine artery (UA) angiogenesis by leptin and its receptors. We hypothesized that (1) ex vivo expression of leptin receptors (LEPR) in UA endothelium (UAendo) and UA vascular smooth muscle (UAvsm) is elevated in pregnant versus nonpregnant (Luteal and Follicular) sheep; (2) in vitro leptin treatments differentially modulate mitogenesis in uterine artery endothelial cells from pregnant (P-UAECs) more than in nonpregnant (NP-UAECs) ewes; and (3) LEPR are upregulated in P-UAECs versus NP-UAECs in association with leptin activation of phospho-STAT3 signaling. Local UA adaptations were evaluated using a unilateral pregnant sheep modelwhere prebreeding uterine horn isolation (nongravid) restricted gravidity to one horn. Immunolocalization revealed LEPR in UAendo and UAvsm from pregnant and nonpregnant sheep. Contrary to our hypothesis, western analysis revealed that follicular UAendo and UAvsm LEPR were greater than luteal, nongravid, gravid, and control pregnant. Compared to pregnant groups, LEPR were elevated in renal artery endothelium of follicular and luteal sheep. Leptin treatment significantly increased mitogenesis in follicular phase NP-UAECs and P-UAECs, but not luteal phase NP-UAECs. Although UAEC expression of LEPR was similar between groups, leptin treatment only activated phospho-STAT3 in follicular NP-UAECs and P-UAECs. Thus, leptin may play an angiogenic role particularly in preparation for the increased UBF during the periovulatory period and subsequently to meet the demands of the growing fetus.
Leptin receptors are locally expressed in uterine artery endothelium and vascular smooth muscle cells during the ovarian cycle and late pregnancy. Leptin may play a role in regulating angiogenic responses of uterine artery endothelial cells during the follicular phase and late pregnancy.