The study was undertaken to determine whether the phenomenon of endothelium-dependent relaxation was impaired in the spontaneously diabetic BB Wistar rat. Endothelium-dependent relaxation in the aorta of overtly diabetic animals was compared with that in nondiabetic BB rats. The relaxative responses were elicited in vitro to acetylcholine (−8.0 to −5.5 log M) and histamine (−7.0 to −3.0 log M) after precontraction with norepinephrine (−6.0 log M). The maximum relaxations produced by both acetylcholine and histamine expressed as percentages of the contractions to norepinephrine were significantly lower in diabetic than in nondiabetic rats. Scanning electron microscopy revealed that in diabetic BB rats there was consistent evidence of swollen cells, raised nuclei, and sloughing of nuclei in endothelial cells of the aorta. In nondiabetic animals these features were not evident. These findings suggest the presence of a functional and morphological defect in endothelial cells in the aorta of the BB rat.

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