Mild hypoxia impairs alveolarization in the endothelial nitric oxide synthase-deficient mouse

Vivek Balasubramaniam, Jen Ruey Tang, Anne Maxey, Charles Plopper, Steven H. Abman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

98 Scopus citations


In addition to its vasodilator properties, nitric oxide (NO) promotes angiogenesis in the systemic circulation and tumors. However, the role of NO in promoting normal lung vascular growth and its impact on alveolarization during development or in response to perinatal stress is unknown. We hypothesized that NO modulates lung vascular and alveolar growth and that decreased NO production impairs distal lung growth in response to mild hypoxia. Litters of 1-day-old mouse pups from parents that were heterozygous for endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS) deficiency were placed in a hypobaric chamber at a simulated altitude of 12,300 ft (FIO2 = 0.16). After 10 days, the mice were killed, and lungs were fixed for morphometric and molecular analysis. Compared with wild-type controls, mean linear intercept (MLI), which is inversely proportional to alveolar surface area, was increased in the eNOS-deficient (eNOS -/-) mice [51 ± 2 μm (eNOS -/-) vs. 41 ± 1 μm (wild type); P < 0.01]. MLI was also increased in the eNOS heterozygote (+/-) mice (44 ± 1 μm; P < 0.03 vs. wild type). Vascular volume density was decreased in the eNOS -/-mice compared with wild-type controls (P < 0.03). Lung vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) protein and VEGF receptor-1 (VEGFR-1) protein content were not different between the study groups. In contrast, lung VEGFR-2 protein content was decreased from control values by 63 and 34% in the eNOS -/- and eNOS +/- mice, respectively (P < 0.03). We conclude that exposure to mild hypoxia during a critical period of lung development impairs alveolarization and reduces vessel density in the eNOS-deficient mouse. We speculate that NO preserves normal distal lung growth during hypoxic stress, perhaps through preservation of VEGFR-2 signaling.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology
Issue number6 28-6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2003


  • Angiogenesis
  • Congenital diaphragmatic hernia
  • Lung hypoplasia
  • Persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn
  • Pulmonary hypertension

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Physiology (medical)
  • Cell Biology


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