Essential Role of Hemoglobin βCys93 in Cardiovascular Physiology.
The supply of oxygen to tissues is controlled by microcirculatory blood flow. One of the more surprising discoveries in cardiovascular physiology is the critical dependence of microcirculatory blood flow on a single conserved cysteine within the β-subunit (βCys93) of hemoglobin (Hb). βCys93 is the primary site of Hb S-nitrosylation [i.e., S-nitrosothiol (SNO) formation to produce S-nitrosohemoglobin (SNO-Hb)]. Notably, S-nitrosylation of βCys93 by NO is favored in the oxygenated conformation of Hb, and deoxygenated Hb releases SNO from βCys93. Since SNOs are vasodilatory, this mechanism provides a physiological basis for how tissue hypoxia increases microcirculatory blood flow (hypoxic autoregulation of blood flow). Mice expressing βCys93A mutant Hb (C93A) have been applied to understand the role of βCys93, and RBCs more generally, in cardiovascular physiology. Notably, C93A mice are unable to effect hypoxic autoregulation of blood flow and exhibit widespread tissue hypoxia. Moreover, reactive hyperemia (augmentation of blood flow following transient ischemia) is markedly impaired. C93A mice display multiple compensations to preserve RBC vasodilation and overcome tissue hypoxia, including shifting SNOs to other thiols on adult and fetal Hbs and elsewhere in RBCs, and growing new blood vessels. However, compensatory vasodilation in C93A mice is uncoupled from hypoxic control, both peripherally (e.g., predisposing to ischemic injury) and centrally (e.g., impairing hypoxic drive to breathe). Altogether, physiological studies utilizing C93A mice are confirming the allosterically controlled role of SNO-Hb in microvascular blood flow, uncovering essential roles for RBC-mediated vasodilation in cardiovascular physiology and revealing new roles for RBCs in cardiovascular disease.
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