BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: Diabetes mellitus (DM) causes multiple dysfunctions including circulatory disorders such as cardiomyopathy, angiopathy, atherosclerosis and arterial hypertension. Rho kinase (ROCK) and protein kinase C (PKC) regulate vascular smooth muscle (VSM) Ca(2+) sensitivity, thus enhancing VSM contraction, and up-regulation of both enzymes in DM is well known. We postulated that in DM, Ca(2+) sensitization occurs in diabetic arteries due to increased ROCK and/or PKC activity. EXPERIMENTAL APPROACH: Rats were rendered hyperglycaemic by i.p. injection of streptozotocin. Age-matched control tissues were used for comparison. Contractile responses to phenylephrine (Phe) and different Ca(2+) concentrations were recorded, respectively, from intact and chemically permeabilized vascular rings from aorta, tail and mesenteric arteries. KEY RESULTS: Diabetic tail and mesenteric arteries demonstrated markedly enhanced sensitivity to Phe while these changes were not observed in aorta. The ROCK inhibitor HA1077, but not the PKC inhibitor chelerythrine, caused significant reduction in sensitivity to agonist in diabetic vessels. Similar changes were observed for myofilament Ca(2+) sensitivity, which was again enhanced in DM in tail and mesenteric arteries, but not in aorta, and could be reduced by both the ROCK and PKC blockers. CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS: We conclude that in DM enhanced myofilament Ca(2+) sensitivity is mainly manifested in muscular-type blood vessels and thus likely to contribute to the development of hypertension. Both PKC and, in particular, ROCK are involved in this phenomenon. This highlights their potential usefulness as drug targets in the pharmacological management of DM-associated vascular dysfunction.
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