Endothelial cells regulate vascular tone by secreting paracrine mediators that control the contractility of arterial smooth muscle cells. Nitric oxide (NO) is an important vasodilating agent that is generated from L-arginine by the enzyme nitric oxide synthase (NOS), which is expressed constitutively by the endothelium. NO also inhibits platelet aggregation, contributing to the antithrombotic properties of the endothelial surface. It would therefore be expected that loss of the endothelium during arterial injury would lead to vasospasm and thrombosis but instead, the neointima formed after injury has a nonthrombogenic surface and a maintained vascular patency. We report here that arterial smooth muscle cells in the neointima formed after a deendothelializing balloon injury to the rat carotid artery express the cytokine-inducible isoform of NOS. Expression was detectable by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction from day 1-14 after injury and in situ hybridization showed expression of NOS mRNA by neointimal smooth muscle cells, particularly at the surface of the lesion. This was associated with systemically detectable NO production as revealed by electron paramagnetic resonance spectroscopic analysis of nitrosylated red cell hemoglobin. Local NO production by intimal smooth muscle cells after endothelial injury could represent an important mechanism for the maintenance of arterial patency and nonthrombogenicity in the injured artery.

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