Diabetes and endothelial dysfunction: a clinical perspective

Endocr Rev. 2001 Feb;22(1):36-52. doi: 10.1210/edrv.22.1.0417.


The main etiology for mortality and a great percent of morbidity in patients with diabetes mellitus is atherosclerosis. A hypothesis for the initial lesion of atherosclerosis is endothelial dysfunction, defined pragmatically as changes in the concentration of the chemical messengers produced by the endothelial cell and/or by blunting of the nitric oxide-dependent vasodilatory response to acetylcholine or hyperemia. Endothelial dysfunction has been documented in patients with diabetes and in individuals with insulin resistance or at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Factors associated with endothelial dysfunction in diabetes include activation of protein kinase C, overexpression of growth factors and/or cytokines, and oxidative stress. Several therapeutic interventions have been tested in clinical trials aimed at improving endothelial function in patients with diabetes. Insulin sensitizers may have a beneficial effect in the short term, but the virtual absence of trials with cardiovascular end-points preclude any definitive conclusion. Two trials offer optimism that treatment with ACE inhibitors may have a positive impact on the progression of atherosclerosis. Although widely used, the effect of hypolipidemic agents on endothelial function in diabetes is not clear. The role of antioxidant therapy is controversial. No data have been published regarding the effects of hormonal replacement therapy on endothelial dysfunction in postmenopausal women with type 2 diabetes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Antioxidants / therapeutic use
  • Arginine / therapeutic use
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Diabetes Mellitus / drug therapy
  • Diabetes Mellitus / physiopathology*
  • Endothelium, Vascular / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Hypolipidemic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Insulin Resistance


  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Antioxidants
  • Hypolipidemic Agents
  • Arginine