Regression or progression: Dependency on vascular nitric oxide
We have shown that chronic administration of the nitric oxide (NO) precursor L-arginine inhibits atherogenesis in the hypercholesterolemic rabbit. However, the effect of supplemental arginine on preexisting lesions is not known and was the focus of the present study. New Zealand White rabbits received normal chow or 0.5% cholesterol chow for 10 weeks. Subsequently, L-arginine (2.25% in drinking water; ARG group) or vehicle (CHOL group) was administered for an additional 13 weeks, while the high-cholesterol diet was continued. Thoracic aortae were harvested at weeks 10, 14, 18, or 23. Rings of aorta were used to assess NO-dependent vasodilation to acetylcholine. Maximal relaxation to acetylcholine in the CHOL rabbits became progressively attenuated from 53.4% (at week 10) to 17.4% (by week 23). Planimetry of the luminal surface of the aortae from CHOL animals revealed a progressive increase in lesion surface area from 30.3% (at week 10) to 56.5% (by week 23). By contrast, animals in the ARG groups manifested improved endothelium-dependent relaxation associated with a reduction of lesion surface area at 14 and 18 weeks. The arginine-induced improvement in endothelium-dependent relaxation was associated with an increased generation of vascular NO and a reduced generation of vascular superoxide anion. By 23 weeks, 3 of 7 ARG animals had persistent improvement in NO-dependent vasodilation and exhibited a further reduction of lesion surface area tc 5.4%. We conclude that hypercholesterolemia induces a progressive loss of NO-dependent vasodilation associated with progressive intimal lesion formation. Administration of L-arginine to animals with preexisting intimal lesions augments vascular NO elaboration, reduces superoxide anion generation, and is associated with a reduction in lesion surface area. This is the first demonstration that restoration of NO activity can induce regression of preexisting intimal lesions and provides evidence that L-arginine therapy may be of potential clinical benefit.