Aims: To investigate whether ascorbic acid (AA) can influence endothelium-dependent relaxation by modulating the spread of endothelial hyperpolarization through the arterial wall via gap junctions. Methods: Force development and membrane potential were monitored by myography and sharp electrode techniques in isolated rabbit iliac arteries. Results: AA prevented the ability of the gap junction blocker 2-aminoethoxydiphenyl borate to inhibit endothelium-dependent relaxations and subintimal smooth muscle hyperpolarizations evoked by cyclopiazonic acid in the presence of nitric oxide (NO) synthase and cyclooxygenase blockade. AA also prevented the ability of a connexin-mimetic peptide targeted against Cx37 and Cx40 (37,40Gap 26) to attenuate the transmission of endothelial hyperpolarization to subintimal smooth muscle, and a peptide targeted against Cx43 (43Gap 26) to attenuate the spread of subintimal hyperpolarization to subadventitial smooth muscle and the associated mechanical relaxation. Parallel studies with endothelium-denuded preparations demonstrated that AA and cyclopiazonic acid both depressed relaxation evoked by the NO donor MAHMA NONOate. Conclusions: The data suggest that AA can modulate arterial function through a previously unrecognized ability to preserve electrotonic signalling via myoendothelial and homocellular smooth muscle gap junctions under conditions where cell coupling is depressed. Underlying mechanisms do not involve amplification of ‘residual’ NO activity by AA.

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