1. The effects of the continuous infusion of atrial natriuretic peptide on the development of pulmonary hypertension were studied in rats exposed to chronic hypoxia.
2. Continuous intravenous infusion of two doses of synthetic rat atrial natriuretic peptide, 300 ng/h per rat (0.10 pmol/h per rat) and 800 ng/h per rat (0.28 pmol/h per rat), attenuated the development of pulmonary hypertension in rats exposed to chronic hypoxia (fractional concentration of oxygen in inspired air = 10%) for 7 days: (i) the pulmonary artery pressure (mean ± sd) in the vehicle-treated hypoxic group was 45 ± 6 mmHg compared with 28 ± 6 mmHg in the vehicle-treated normotoxic group (n = 8, P < 0.001); (ii) treatment with atrial natriuretic peptide in normoxia did not alter the pulmonary artery pressure, systemic blood pressure or heart rate; (iii) treatment with atrial natriuretic peptide in hypoxia resulted in a lower pulmonary artery pressure in the group treated with 800 ng of atrial natriuretic peptide/h per rat (38 ± 8 mmHg, P < 0.05 compared with the vehicle-treated hypoxic group) without affecting the systemic blood pressure or heart rate.
3. Chronic hypoxia resulted in an extension of vascular smooth muscle towards the periphery of the lung with the development of muscle in normally non-muscularized vessels (remodelling). Quantitative assessment of the small pulmonary vessels (external diameter 25–55 μm) showed that atrial natriuretic peptide treatment reduced pulmonary vascular remodelling in hypoxia (the percentage of thick-walled vessels in the peripheral lung hypoxic vehicle-treated group was 25 ± 6 compared with 19 ± 4 in the group given 300 ng of atrial natriuretic peptide/h per rat and 17 ± 7 in the group given 800 ng of atrial natriuretic peptide/h per rat, means ± sd, both P < 0.01 compared with the vehicle-treated normoxic group).
4. These data show that infusion of synthetic atrial natriuretic peptide attenuated the pulmonary vascular remodelling and associated pulmonary hypertension produced by chronic hypoxia.