Aims: To assess the feasibility and reproducibility of non-invasive vascular assessment in a childhood population setting and identify the determinants of vascular phenotype in early life.
Methods and results: We studied 7557 children (age 9.8-12.3 years) participating in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). Six research technicians underwent a 5-month training protocol to enable study of brachial artery endothelial function by flow-mediated dilatation (FMD) and arterial stiffness by carotid to radial pulse wave velocity (PWV) and brachial distensibility [distensibility coefficient (DC)]. Reproducibility studies were performed at the beginning, the middle, and the end of the study. A blinded repeat evaluation of a random selection of 3% of the cohort was also undertaken throughout the study. The effect of anthropometric and environmental factors on each measure was examined. Successful measures were obtained in 88, 95, and 87% of the studied children for FMD, PWV, and DC, respectively. The coefficients of variation between technicians for FMD, PWV, and DC were 10.5, 4.6, and 6.6% at the beginning of the study and reached 7.7, 4.1, and 10% at the end. Baseline vessel diameter and gender were important determinants of all the vascular measures, with a small effect of room and skin temperatures on FMD and PWV. Boys consistently had lower FMD and DC and higher PWV measures (P < 0.01 for all).
Conclusion: Reproducible, high-quality assessments of vascular structure and function in children can be made on a large scale in field studies by suitably trained non-specialist operators. This study provides an invaluable resource for assessing the impact of early influences, genetic, and environmental factors on arterial phenotype.