Nitric oxide limits coronary vasoconstriction by a shear stress-dependent mechanism

David W. Stepp, Daphne Merkus, Yasuhiro Nishikawa, William M. Chilian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Increases in shear stress promote coronary vasodilation by stimulating the production of nitric oxide (NO). Whether shear stress-induced NO production also limits vasoconstriction in the coronary microcirculation in vivo is unknown. Accordingly, we measured microvascular diameter and flow velocity in the beating heart along with estimated blood viscosity to calculate shear stress during vasoconstriction with endothelin or vasopressin. Measurements were repeated in the presence of NG-monomethyl-L-arginine (L-NMMA) to inhibit NO production and BQ-788 to block NO-linked endothelin type B receptors. BQ-788 did not augment steady-state constriction to endothelin, suggesting that NO production via activation of this receptor is inconsequential. L-NMMA potentiated constriction to both agonists, particularly in small arteries (inner diameter >120 μm). Shear stresses in small arteries were elevated during constriction and further elevated during constriction after L-NMMA. These observations suggest that NO production limits vasoconstriction in the coronary microcirculation and that the principal stimulus for this governance is elevated shear stress. The degree of shear stress moderation of constriction is heterogeneously distributed, with small arteries displaying a higher degree of shear stress regulation than arterioles. These results provide the strongest evidence to date that shear stress-mediated production of NO exerts a "braking" influence on constriction in the coronary microcirculation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)H796-H803
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Heart and Circulatory Physiology
Issue number2 50-2
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Coronary circulation
  • Endothelin
  • Nitric oxide synthase

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Physiology (medical)


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