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PNAS 104 (41): 16281-16286

Copyright © 2007 by the National Academy of Sciences.


Plasma sodium stiffens vascular endothelium and reduces nitric oxide release

Hans Oberleithner*,{dagger}, Christoph Riethmüller*, Hermann Schillers*, Graham A. MacGregor{ddagger}, Hugh E. de Wardener{ddagger}, and Martin Hausberg§

*Institute of Physiology II and §Department of Internal Medicine D, University of Münster, 48149 Münster, Germany; and {ddagger}Blood Pressure Unit, Department of Cardiac and Vascular Medicine, St. George's University of London, London SW17 ORE, United Kingdom

Communicated by Gerhard Giebisch, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, August 21, 2007

Received for publication February 16, 2007.

Abstract: Dietary salt plays a major role in the regulation of blood pressure, and the mineralocorticoid hormone aldosterone controls salt homeostasis and extracellular volume. Recent observations suggest that a small increase in plasma sodium concentration may contribute to the pressor response of dietary salt. Because endothelial cells are (i) sensitive to aldosterone, (ii) in physical contact with plasma sodium, and (iii) crucial regulators of vascular tone, we tested whether acute changes in plasma sodium concentration, within the physiological range, can alter the physical properties of endothelial cells. The tip of an atomic force microscope was used as a nanosensor to measure stiffness of living endothelial cells incubated for 3 days in a culture medium containing aldosterone at a physiological concentration (0.45 nM). Endothelial cell stiffness was unaffected by acute changes in sodium concentration <135 mM but rose steeply between 135 and 145 mM. The increase in stiffness occurred within minutes. Lack of aldosterone in the culture medium or treatment with the epithelial sodium channel inhibitor amiloride prevented this response. Nitric oxide formation was found down-regulated in cells cultured in aldosterone-containing high sodium medium. The results suggest that changes in plasma sodium concentration per se may affect endothelial function and thus control vascular tone.

Key Words: atomic force microscopy • cell stiffness • endothelial dysfunction • eplerenone

Freely available online through the PNAS open access option.

Author contributions: H.O., C.R., H.S., G.A.M., H.E.d.W., and M.H. designed research; H.O. performed research; H.O. analyzed data; and H.O. wrote the paper.

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

{dagger}To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: oberlei{at}

© 2007 by The National Academy of Sciences of the USA

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