• aging;
  • ceramide;
  • eNOS;
  • GSH;
  • inflammation;
  • PP2A


Aging is the single most important risk factor for cardiovascular diseases (CVD), which are the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in the elderly. The underlying etiologies that elevate CVD risk are unknown, but increased vessel rigidity appears to be a major hallmark of cardiovascular aging. We hypothesized that post-translational signaling pathways become disrupted with age and adversely affect endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS) activity and endothelial-derived nitric oxide (NO) production. Using arterial vessels and isolated endothelia from old (33-month) vs. young (3-month) F344XBrN rats, we show a loss of vasomotor function with age that is attributable to a decline in eNOS activity and NO bioavailability. An altered eNOS phosphorylation pattern consistent with its inactivation was observed: phosphorylation at the inhibitory threonine 494 site increased while phosphorylation at the activating serine 1176 site declined by 50%. Loss of phosphorylation on serine 1176 was related to higher ceramide-activated protein phosphatase 2 A activity, which was driven by a 125% increase in ceramide in aged endothelia. Elevated ceramide levels were attributable to chronic activation of neutral sphingomyelinases without a concomitant increase in ceramidase activity. This imbalance may stem from an observed 33% decline in endothelial glutathione (GSH) levels, a loss known to differentially induce neutral sphingomyelinases. Pretreating aged vessel rings with the neutral sphingomyelinase inhibitor, GW4869, significantly reversed the age-dependent loss of vasomotor function. Taken together, these results suggest a novel mechanism that at least partly explains the persistent loss of eNOS activity and endothelial-derived NO availability in aging conduit arteries.