Relaxin as a natural agent for vascular health
Authors Bani D
Published 6 June 2008 Volume 2008:4(3) Pages 515—524
Department of Anatomy, Histology and Forensic Medicine, Sect. Histology, University of Florence, Italy
Abstract: Hypertension, atherothrombosis, myocardial infarction, stroke, peripheral vascular disease, and renal failure are the main manifestations of cardiovascular disease (CVD), the leading cause of death and disability in developed countries. Continuing insight into the pathophysiology of CVD can allow identification of effective therapeutic strategies to reduce the occurrence of death and/or severe disabilities. In this context, a healthy endothelium is deemed crucial to proper functioning and maintenance of anatomical integrity of the vascular system in many organs. Of note, epidemiologic studies indicate that the incidence of CVD in women is very low until menopause and increases sharply thereafter. The loss of protection against CVD in post-menopausal women has been chiefly attributed to ovarian steroid deficiency. However, besides steroids, the ovary also produces the peptide hormone relaxin (RLX), which provides potent vasoactive effects which render it the most likely candidate as the elusive physiological shield against CVD in fertile women. In particular, RLX has a specific relaxant effect on peripheral and coronary vasculature, exerted by the stimulation of endogenous nitric oxide (NO) generation by cells of the vascular wall, and can induce angiogenesis. Moreover, RLX inhibits the activation of inflammatory leukocytes and platelets, which play a key role in CVD. Experimental studies performed in vascular and blood cell in vitro and in animal models of vascular dysfunction, as well as pioneer clinical observations, have provided evidence that RLX can prevent and/or improve CVD, thus offering background to clinical trials aimed at exploring the broad therapeutic potential of human recombinant RLX as a new cardiovascular drug.
Keywords: relaxin, blood vessels, endothelial cells, vascular smooth muscle, nitric oxide, cardiovascular disease
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