Endothelial alterations in hypercholesterolemia: More than simply vasodilator dysfunction
Occlusive vascular disease begins with an alteration of the endothelium, which is characterized by a decrease in nitric oxide (NO) activity. Endogenous NO inhibits many key processes in atherogenesis, including monocyte adherence, platelet activation, and smooth muscle proliferation. The mechanism by which NO activity is reduced in hypercholesterolemia and in other metabolic disorders associated with atherogenesis appears to be multifactorial. It includes increased production of oxygen-derived free radicals, alterations in NO synthase, and the accumulation of endogenous inhibitors (ADMA) of NO synthase. Plasma concentrations of ADMA are elevated in hypercholesterolemic humans. Elevated ADMA concentrations are associated with impaired endothelium-dependent, NO-mediated vasodilatation and reduced urinary nitrate exertion. These effects of ADMA are counteracted by administration of the NO precursor L-arginine. It is likely that basic insights regarding the mechanisms of endothelial dysfunction will lead to new therapeutic strategies for atherosclerosis.