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, 14 (35), 3715-22

Non-invasive Diagnostic Tools for Investigating Endothelial Dysfunction


Non-invasive Diagnostic Tools for Investigating Endothelial Dysfunction

Lorenzo Ghiadoni et al. Curr Pharm Des.


The endothelium is not merely a barrier but it plays a key role in the maintenance of vascular homeostasis. A dysfunctional endothelium is an early marker of the development of atherosclerotic changes and can also contribute to cardiovascular events. Vascular reactivity tests represent the most widely used methods in the clinical assessment of endothelial function and in the last two decades, several methodologies were developed to study it non invasively in the peripheral macrocirculation (conduit arteries) and microcirculation (resistance arteries and arterioles). This review will centre on the most relevant available non-invasive techniques in the research on endothelial function, their advantages and limitations. Flow mediated dilation (FMD) of the brachial artery by ultrasounds is the most widely used vascular test to assess endothelium-dependent vasodilation. Other approaches include measurement of microcirculatory reactive hyperaemia by forearm venous pletysmography or digital pulse amplitude tonometry, response to beta2 agonist by applanation tonometry or digital photoplethysmography and several test by skin laser doppler. It appears that FMD is the most reproducible test when an appropriate and accurate methodology is applied. Recently, post-ischemic vasodilation in the cavernous arteries was also suggested to study endothelial function in patients with erectile dysfunction. Systemic markers proposed as measures of NO biology, inflammatory cytokines, adhesion molecules, or markers of endothelial damage and repair have only a very limited role as a result of biological and assay availability and variability, these factors currently have a limited role in the assessment of individual patients. The optimal methodology for investigating the multifaceted aspects of endothelial dysfunction is still under debate. Therefore, no available test to assess endothelial function has sufficient sensitivity and specificity to be used yet in clinical practice. Only the growing concordant results from different reproducible and reliable non-invasive methods exploring endothelial function with different stimuli will support and strengthen experimental findings, thus providing conclusive answers in this area of research.

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