Preeclampsia is a hypertensive disorder of pregnancy caused by abnormal placental function, partly because of chronic hypoxia at the utero-placental junction. The increase in levels of soluble vascular endothelial growth factor receptor 1, an antiangiogenic agent known to inhibit placental vascularization, is an important cellular factor implicated in the onset of preeclampsia. We investigated the ligand urotensin II (U-II), a potent endogenous vasoconstrictor and proangiogenic agent, for which levels have been reported to increase in patients with preeclampsia. We hypothesized that an increased sensitivity to U-II in preeclampsia might be achieved by upregulation of placental U-II receptors. We further investigated the role of U-II receptor stimulation on soluble vascular endothelial growth factor receptor 1 release in placental explants from diseased and normal patients. Immunohistochemistry, real-time PCR, and Western blotting analysis revealed that U-II receptor expression was significantly upregulated in preeclampsia placentas compared with controls (P < 0.01). Cellular models of syncytiotrophoblast and vascular endothelial cells subjected to hypoxic conditions revealed an increase in U-II receptor levels in the syncytiotrophoblast model. This induction is regulated by the transcriptional activator hypoxia-inducible factor 1 alpha. U-II treatment is associated with increased secretion of soluble vascular endothelial growth factor receptor 1 only in preeclamptic placental explants under hypoxia but not in control conditions. Interestingly, normal placental explants did not respond to U-II stimulation. (Hypertension. 2010; 56: 172-178.
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