Local and systemic AngII (angiotensin II) levels are regulated by ACE2 (angiotensin-converting enzyme 2), which is reduced in diabetic tissues. In the present study, we examine the effect of ACE2 deficiency on the early cardiac and vascular changes associated with experimental diabetes. Streptozotocin diabetes was induced in male C57BL6 mice and Ace2-KO (knockout) mice, and markers of RAS (renin–angiotensin system) activity, cardiac function and injury were assessed after 10 weeks. In a second protocol, diabetes was induced in male ApoE (apolipoprotein E)-KO mice and ApoE/Ace2-double-KO mice, and plaque accumulation and markers of atherogenesis assessed after 20 weeks. The induction of diabetes in wild-type mice led to reduced ACE2 expression and activity in the heart, elevated circulating AngII levels and reduced cardiac Ang-(1–7) [angiotensin-(1–7)] levels. This was associated structurally with thinning of the LV (left ventricular) wall and mild ventricular dilatation, and histologically with increased cardiomyocyte apoptosis on TUNEL (terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated dUTP nick-end labelling) staining and compensatory hypertrophy denoted by an increased cardiomyocyte cross-sectional area. By contrast Ace2-KO mice failed to increase circulating AngII concentration, experienced a paradoxical fall in cardiac AngII levels and no change in Ang-(1–7) following the onset of diabetes. At the same time the major phenotypic differences between Ace2-deficient and Ace2-replete mice with respect to BP (blood pressure) and cardiac hypertrophy were eliminated following the induction of diabetes. Consistent with findings in the heart, the accelerated atherosclerosis that was observed in diabetic ApoE-KO mice was not seen in diabetic ApoE/Ace2-KO mice, which experienced no further increase in plaque accumulation or expression in key adhesion molecules beyond that seen in ApoE/Ace2-KO mice. These results point to the potential role of ACE2 deficiency in regulating the tissue and circulating levels of AngII and their sequelae in the context of diabetes, as well as the preservation or augmentation of ACE2 expression or activity as a potential therapeutic target for the prevention of CVD (cardiovascular disease) in diabetes.

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