The ETs (endothelins) comprise a family of three 21-amino-acid peptides (ET-1, ET-2 and ET-3) and 31-amino-acid ETs (ET-11–31, ET-21–31 and ET-31–31). ET-1 is synthesized from a biologically inactive precursor, big ET-1, by ECEs (ET-converting enzymes). The actions of ET-1 are mediated through activation of the G-protein-coupled ETA and ETB receptors, which are found in a variety of cells in the cardiovascular and renal systems. ET-1 has potent vasoconstrictor, mitogenic, pro-inflammatory and antinatriuretic properties, which have been implicated in the pathophysiology of a number of cardiovascular diseases. Overexpression of ET-1 has been consistently described in salt-sensitive models of hypertension and in models of renal failure, and has been associated with disease progression. Sex differences are observed in many aspects of mammalian cardiovascular function and pathology. Hypertension, as well as other cardiovascular diseases, is more common in men than in women of similar age. In experimental models of hypertension, males develop an earlier and more severe form of hypertension than do females. Although the reasons for these differences are not well established, the effects of gonadal hormones on arterial, neural and renal mechanisms that control blood pressure are considered contributing factors. Sex differences in the ET-1 pathway, with males displaying higher ET-1 levels, greater ET-1-mediated vasoconstrictor and enhanced pressor responses in comparison with females, are addressed in the present review. Sex-associated differences in the number and function of ETB receptors appear to be particularly important in the specific characteristics of hypertension between females and males. Although the gonadal hormones modulate some of the differences in the ET pathway in the cardiovascular system, a better understanding of the exact mechanisms involved in sex-related differences in this peptidergic system is needed. With further insights into these differences, we may learn that men and women could require different antihypertensive regimens.

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