The endothelium in health and disease--a target for therapeutic intervention

J Smooth Muscle Res. 2003 Dec;39(6):249-67. doi: 10.1540/jsmr.39.249.


In this review we discuss the contribution of NO, prostacyclin and endothelium-derived relaxing factor--endothelium-derived hyperpolarizing factor, or EDHF, to vascular function. We also explore the hypotheses (1): that tissues can store NO as nitrosothiols (RSNOs) and (2) that such RSNO stores can be modulated by physiological and pathophysiological processes. Notably in the microcirculation, EDHF appears to play an important role in the regulation of vascular tone. Leading candidates for EDHF include extracellular potassium (K+), an epoxygenase product, hydrogen peroxide and/or a contribution from myoendothelial gap junctions. Data from our laboratory indicate that in mouse vessels, different endothelium-dependent vasodilators, such as acetylcholine and protease-activated receptor (PAR) agonists, release different endothelium-derived relaxing factors. The combination of two K-channel toxins, apamin and charybdotoxin, inhibits EDHF activity in most protocols. Endothelial dysfunction is considered as the major risk factor and a very early indicator of cardiovascular disease including the cardiovascular complications of type I & types II diabetes. Impaired endothelium-dependent vasodilatation results primarily from a decreased synthesis of endothelium-derived nitric oxide (NO) and/or an increase in the production of reactive oxygen species such as superoxide. We have shown that the administration of tetrahydrobiopterin, an important co-factor for nitric oxide synthase (NOS) partially restores endothelial function (1) in leptin-deficient mice (db/db) with spontaneous type II diabetes, as well as (2) in human vascular tissue harvested for coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG). These data suggest that a deficiency in the availability of tetrahydrobiopterin plays an important role in vascular dysfunction associated with Type II diabetes. In addition, changes in the contribution of EDHF occur in vascular tissue from the db/db mice suggesting a compensatory increase in EDHF production; whether this alteration in EDHF production is physiological or pathophysiological remains controversial.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Disease*
  • Endothelium, Vascular / physiology*
  • Endothelium, Vascular / physiopathology*
  • Health*
  • Humans
  • Therapeutics*