An increase in Na+/H+ antiporter activity may be involved in hyperproliferation of vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMC) and possibly in the vascular hyperplasia characteristic of hypertension. The present study was designed to examine cell proliferation, Na+/H+ exchange activity, and mRNA levels of the NHE-1 isoform of the Na+/H+ antiporter in cultured aortic VSMC derived from the spontaneously hypertensive rat (SHR) and from normotensive controls, the Wistar/Kyoto rat (WKY). VSMC derived from the SHR grown in early (2 to 6), but not in later (7 to 10) sub-passages, exhibited an increase in [3H]-thymidine incorporation and shorter doubling times as compared to those derived from WKY rats. Na+/H+ exchange activity assayed in the nominal absence of HCO3-/CO2, as the rate of intracellular pH (pH(i)) recovery after cell acidification was significantly higher in cells from SHR than in those from WKY rats when cells were studied in early sub-passages, but not in cells studied in later sub-passages. In cells grown in early sub-passage, Na+/H+ exchange activity assessed as the initial rate of Na+(i) accumulation following acute cell acidification was also significantly higher in SHR than WKY cells both in the nominal absence (10.22 ± 1.15 and 6.98 ± 1.17 mmol Na+(i)/90 seconds, P < 0.05, respectively) and in the presence of HCO3-/CO2 (9.94 ± 1.02 and 5.59 ± 0.86 mmol Na+/90 seconds, P < 0.01, respectively). There were no detectable differences in the level of steady-state Na+/H+ antiporter (NHE-1) mRNA between VSMC from SHR and WKY rats. Our findings indicate that Na+/H+ exchange activity is increased in cultured aortic VSMC derived from SHR as compared to those derived from WKY rats. The higher functional activity of the Na+/H+ antiporter in VSMC from the SHR is due to a post-transcriptional event(s) and may be related to enhanced growth in culture.
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