Elevated blood glucose is generally regarded as one of the risk factors that lead to coronary heart disease in patients with type 2 diabetes. However, our studies show that after inducing short-term damage, high blood glucose subsequently provides paradoxical protection for vessel function of animals with high blood pressure. Vessels can adapt to sustained high blood glucose and produce different stress proteins to counteract, to some extent, the damage brought about by hypertension. The results help us understand part of the basis for vessel adaptation in diabetes. The implication for treatment of diabetes is that if the patients have long-standing diabetes and established cardiovascular disease, the target of blood glucose lowering should be less stringent and reached gradually to avoid abrupt cancellation of the pre-existing adaptations.
Although both diabetes and hypertension are risk factors for cardiovascular disease, the role of hyperglycaemia per se in endothelial dysfunction is controversial. This study was designed to examine whether hyperglycaemia, or streptozotocin-induced diabetes, could aggravate endothelial dysfunction in stroke-prone spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHRSP). Hyperglycaemia was induced by streptozotocin in 2-month-old SHRSP and age-matched normotensive Wistar–Kyoto (WKY) rats. The aorta was isolated 8 weeks after induction of hyperglycaemia to record its function and to examine its morphology with transmission electron microscopy. Endothelial/inducible nitric oxide synthase (eNOS/iNOS) and inducible/constitutive haem oxygenase (HO-1/HO-2) levels were determined with Western blotting. Aortic endothelial function and production of reactive oxygen species and nitric oxide were assayed after incubation in vitro in hyperglycaemic, hyperosmolar solution. Streptozotocin-induced diabetes of 8 weeks duration did not result in endothelial dysfunction in normotensive WKY rats. In contrast, hyperglycaemic WKY rats showed significantly enhanced endothelium-dependent vasodilatation, which was abrogated by simultaneous blocking of NOS and HO. The enhanced vasodilatation was associated with elevation of vascular eNOS and HO-1. Significant endothelial dysfunction and massive macrophage–monocyte infiltration were found in SHRSP aorta (the ratio of the number of macrophages to endothelial cells in the intima, expressed as a percentage, was 20.9 ± 2.8% in SHRSP versus 1.9 ± 0.5% in WKY rats, P < 0.01), which was attenuated significantly in hyperglycaemic SHRSP (11.3 ± 1.6%, P < 0.01 versus SHRSP). Acute hyperglycaemia (10 min) aggravated endothelial dysfunction in SHRSP, with a marked increase in intracellular reactive oxygen species and NO production. Sustained in vitro incubation in hyperglycaemic/hyperosmolar conditions (addition of an extra 50 mmol L−1 of glucose or mannitol to the usual buffer, to produce a final osmolarity of 350 mosmol L−1) for 5 h enhanced endothelium-dependent vasodilatation, with elevated vessel NO production and upregulation of eNOS/HO-1 proteins. Sustained hyperglycaemia does not aggravate endothelial dysfunction and macrophage infiltration in SHRSP. Hyperglycaemia/hyperosmolarity-induced upregulation of eNOS and HO-1 may play a role in this paradoxical adaptation of endothelial function.