Homocysteine is a risk factor for the development of atherosclerosis and its thrombotic complications. We have employed an animal model to explore the hypothesis that an increase in reactive oxygen species and a subsequent loss of nitric oxide bioactivity contribute to endothelial dysfunction in mild hyperhomocysteinemia.
We examined endothelial function and in vivo oxidant burden in mice heterozygous for a deletion in the cystathionine ß-synthase (CBS) gene, by studying isolated, precontracted aortic rings and mesenteric arterioles in situ. CBS–/+ mice demonstrated impaired acetylcholine-induced aortic relaxation and a paradoxical vasoconstriction of mesenteric microvessels in response to superfusion of methacholine and bradykinin. Cyclic GMP accumulation following acetylcholine treatment was also impaired in isolated aortic segments from CBS–/+ mice, but aortic relaxation and mesenteric arteriolar dilation in response to sodium nitroprusside were similar to wild-type. Plasma levels of 8-epi-PGF2 (8-IP) were somewhat increased in CBS–/+ mice, but liver levels of 8-IP and phospholipid hydroperoxides, another marker of oxidative stress, were normal.
Aortic tissue from CBS–/+ mice also demonstrated greater superoxide production and greater immunostaining for 3-nitrotyrosine, particularly on the endothelial surface. Importantly, endothelial dysfunction appears early in CBS–/+ mice in the absence of structural arterial abnormalities. Hence, mild hyperhomocysteinemia due to reduced CBS expression impairs endothelium-dependent vasodilation, likely due to impaired nitric oxide bioactivity, and increased oxidative stress apparently contributes to inactivating nitric oxide in chronic, mild hyperhomocysteinemia.