Adenosine 5′-triphosphate (ATP) causes vasoconstriction by activation of P2-purinoceptors on vascular smooth muscle cells. Erythrocytes contain ATP at a concentration (1.6 mmol/L) that contracts smooth muscle. Previous studies of hemoglobin solutions did not assess whether the vasoactivity was caused by ATP rather than or in addition to hemoglobin. It was hypothesized that the hemolysis of erythrocytes that occurs after subarachnoid hemorrhage releases ATP in concentrations that cause vasospasm.


Thirty-eight rats were randomly assigned to undergo placement of one of the following compounds in a silastic elastomer cuff around each femoral artery: 1) agarose gel (n = 8); 2) dog erythrocyte hemolysate (n = 8); 3) purified human hemoglobin (Hemolink; Hemosol, Inc., Toronto, Canada; n = 8); 4) ATP (n = 8); or 5) clotted autologous blood (n = 6). The amounts of hemoglobins and adenine nucleotides in the compounds were measured by spectrophotometry and high pressure liquid chromatography. Hemolysate, purified hemoglobin, and ATP were mixed with agarose gel to create an artificial clot. Rats were killed and fixed by perfusion at physiological blood pressure 7 days after perivascular cuff and spasmogen placement. Vasospasm was assessed by image analysis of cross sections of fixed femoral arteries. Arteries were assessed for histopathological changes on 3-point scales.


There was significant variance in arterial diameters among groups (mean diameter ± standard deviation: agarose gel, 0.29 ± 0.06; purified hemoglobin, 0.28 ± 0.04; hemolysate, 0.24 ± 0.05; ATP, 0.25 ± 0.05; clotted blood, 0.24 ± 0.01; P < 0.05, analysis of variance, n = 11-20). Animals exposed to clotted blood, hemolysate (bat contained ATP, or ATP, developed vasospasm, whereas purified hemoglobin and agarose did not cause vasospasm. Endothelial proliferation and perivascular inflammation were more severe (P < 0.05) in arteries exposed to clotted blood, purified hemoglobin, and hemolysate.


These results suggest that ATP may be a vasospastic substance released by erythrocyte hemolysis. Tbe concentration of ATP in impure solutions of hemoglobin is too low to account for the vasoactivity of these solutions. The discrepancy between arterial narrowing and histopathological changes suggests that either histopathological changes may not be an important correlate of arterial vasospasm or that other substances are important in vasospasm.