The imbalance between NO (nitric oxide) and ROS (reactive oxygen species) is an important factor in the development of hypertension. The aim of the present study was to determine the preventive and therapeutic effects of NAC (N-acetylcysteine) in SHRs (spontaneously hypertensive rats). Young and adult SHRs and WKY (Wistar–Kyoto) rats were treated with NAC (20 g/l in the drinking water). After 8 weeks of treatment, BP (blood pressure) and NOS (NO synthase) activity, conjugated dienes and GSH (reduced glutathione) in the kidney and left ventricle were determined. Protein expression of eNOS (endothelial NOS), inducible NOS and NF-κB (nuclear factor κB) were also determined in the left ventricle and kidney. Chronic NAC treatment partially attenuated the rise in BP in young SHRs (179±6 compared with 210±8 mmHg in untreated animals), but it had no significant effect on BP in adult SHRs. The antioxidant action of NAC, measured as a decrease of the concentration of conjugated dienes or inhibition of NF-κB expression, was greater in young than in adult SHRs. Similarly, eNOS protein expression was attenuated more in young than in adult SHRs, although NAC treatment increased NOS activity to a similar extent in both young and adult rats. In conclusion, both decreased ROS production and increased NOS activity appear to participate in the BP changes after NAC treatment in young SHRs. In adult SHRs with established hypertension, however, the secondary alterations (such as pronounced structural remodelling of resistance vessels) might attenuate the therapeutic effect of NAC.

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