Recent studies have shown that maternal hyperinsulinaemia is a risk factor for the development of hypertension in pregnancy. Experimentally, pregnant rats with chronic exogenously induced hyperinsulinaemia (P-INS rats) have increased blood pressure at the end of gestation. This is associated with a blunted elevation of the excretion of the urinary metabolites of nitrate (UNOx). In the present study, we aimed to evaluate the mechanism(s) of the increase in blood pressure in this model. Four groups were studied: normal pregnant rats (P rats), P-INS rats, P-INS rats treated with l-arginine (2 g/l in the drinking water) (l-ARG rats) and hyperinsulinaemic virgin rats (V-INS rats). Systolic blood pressure (SBP), UNOx excretion (on ingestion of a controlled low-nitrate diet), urine noradrenaline (norepinephrine) and plasma endothelin levels were evaluated. Rats were killed on day 22 of pregnancy. Five P-INS rats were not killed at this time, in order to measure SBP 30 and 60 days after delivery. Fetal number and fetal body weight were evaluated. At the end of pregnancy, a 10±3% increase in SBP was found in P-INS rats, contrasting with a fall of -15±4% in P rats (P < 0.01). In the l-ARG group at the end of pregnancy, SBP values had fallen by -14±2%, to values comparable with those of P rats. The increase in UNOx excretion was 175±38% in P rats, 106±12% in l-ARG rats and 41±8% in P-INS rats (P < 0.01 compared with P and l-ARG groups). No differences were found in the urinary excretion of noradrenaline or in the plasma levels of endothelin-1 between the pregnant groups. Fetal number was similar in all groups, but fetal body weight was lower for P-INS rats compared with P and l-ARG rats. Thus the blood pressure response to l-arginine strongly suggests that a decrease in NO availability may be the main pathogenic mechanism involved in the development of hypertension in this model.

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