The effect of cis-5,8,11,14,17-eicosapentaenoic acid upon the contractile mechanisms linked to calcium influx and the mobilisation of intracellular calcium in aortic smooth muscle

  • Nicola Bretherton

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Epidemiological studies previously identified cis-5,8,11,14,17-eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) as the biologically active component of fish oil of benefit to the cardiovascular system. Although clinical investigations demonstrated its usefulness in surgical procedures, its mechanism of action still remained unclear.
It was shown in this thesis, that EPA partially blocked the contraction of aortic smooth muscle cells to the vasoactive agents KCl and noradrenaline. The latter effect was likely caused by reducing calcium influx through receptor-operated channels, supporting a recent suggestion by Asano et al (1997). Consistently, EPA decreased noradrenaline-induced contractures in aortic tissue, in support of previous reports (Engler, 1992b).
The observed effect of EPA on cell contractions to KCl was not simple due to blocking calcium influx through L-type channels, consistent with a previous suggestion by Hallaq et al (1992). Moreover, EPA caused a transient increase in [Ca2+]i in the absence of extracellular calcium. To resolve this it was shown that EPA increased inositol phosphate formation which, it is suggested, caused the release of calcium from an inositol phosphate-dependent internal binding site, possibly that of an intracellular membrane or superficial sarcoplasmic reticulum, producing the transient increase in [Ca2+]i. As it was shown that the cellular contractile filaments were not desensitised to calcium by EPA, it is suggested that the transient increase in [Ca2+]i subsequently blocks further cell contraction to KCl by activating membrane-associated potassium channels. Activation of potassium channels induces the cellular efflux of potassium ions, thereby hyperpolarising the plasma membrane and moving the membrane potential farther from the activation range for calcium channels. This would prevent calcium influx in the longer term and could explain the initial observed effect of EPA to block cell contraction to KCl.
Date of AwardOct 1998
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorJ. Smith (Supervisor)


  • fish oil
  • calcium channels
  • inositol phosphate
  • potassium channels

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