• cell coupling;
  • endothelium;
  • morphology;
  • smooth muscle;
  • transient receptor potential type 4;
  • vasodilation


In pregnancy, the vasculature of the uterus undergoes rapid remodelling to increase blood flow and maintain perfusion to the fetus. The present study determines the distribution and density of caveolae, transient receptor potential vanilloid type 4 channels (TRPV4) and myoendothelial gap junctions, and the relative contribution of related endothelium-dependent vasodilator components in uterine radial arteries of control virgin non-pregnant and 20-day late-pregnant rats. The hypothesis examined is that specific components of endothelium-dependent vasodilator mechanisms are altered in pregnancy-related uterine radial artery remodelling. Conventional and serial section electron microscopy were used to determine the morphological characteristics of uterine radial arteries from control and pregnant rats. TRPV4 distribution and expression was examined using conventional confocal immunohistochemistry, and the contribution of endothelial TRPV4, nitric oxide (NO) and endothelium-derived hyperpolarization (EDH)-type activity determined using pressure myography with pharmacological intervention. Data show outward hypertrophic remodelling occurs in uterine radial arteries in pregnancy. Further, caveolae density in radial artery endothelium and smooth muscle from pregnant rats was significantly increased by ~94% and ~31%, respectively, compared with control, whereas caveolae density did not differ in endothelium compared with smooth muscle from control. Caveolae density was significantly higher by ~59% on the abluminal compared with the luminal surface of the endothelium in uterine radial artery of pregnant rats but did not differ at those surfaces in control. TRPV4 was present in endothelium and smooth muscle, but not associated with internal elastic lamina hole sites in radial arteries. TRPV4 fluorescence intensity was significantly increased in the endothelium and smooth muscle of radial artery of pregnant compared with control rats by ~2.6- and 5.5-fold, respectively. The TRPV4 signal was significantly higher in the endothelium compared with the smooth muscle in radial artery of both control and pregnant rats, by ~5.7- and 2.7-fold, respectively. Myoendothelial gap junction density was significantly decreased by ~37% in radial artery from pregnant compared with control rats. Pressure myography with pharmacological intervention showed that NO contributes ~80% and ~30%, and the EDH-type component ~20% and ~70% of the total endothelium-dependent vasodilator response in radial arteries of control and pregnant rats, respectively. TRPV4 plays a functional role in radial arteries, with a greater contribution in those from pregnant rats. The correlative association of increased TRPV4 and caveolae density and role of EDH-type activity in uterine radial artery of pregnant rats is suggestive of their causal relationship. The decreased myoendothelial gap junction density and lack of TRPV4 density at such sites is consistent with their having an integral, albeit complex, interactive role in uterine vascular signalling and remodelling in pregnancy.