Significance of endothelial dysfunction in sleep-related breathing disorder

Respirology. 2013 Jan;18(1):39-46. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-1843.2012.02212.x.


The endothelium functions not only as a semi-selective barrier between body tissue and circulation; it also plays an active role in the maintenance of a healthy vasculature. Endothelial dysfunction is increasingly found to play a pivotal role in the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis. Impaired endothelium-dependent vasodilation, as a marker of endothelial dysfunction, predates and predicts cardiovascular disease. Endothelial dysfunction is thought to result from oxidative stress, inflammatory gene activation and cytokine cascade, as well as impairment of endothelial repair mechanisms. In the context of sleep-related breathing disorders, obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) is postulated to contribute independently to cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. Thus, endothelial dysfunction is an important target of research in vascular pathogenesis and also serves as an intermediary outcome indicator in clinical trials evaluating cardiovascular sequelae in OSA. Basic or translational studies have identified cellular and molecular mechanisms of potential relevance to endothelial dysfunction in OSA, while epidemiological or clinical studies have shown endothelial dysfunction attributable to sleep-disordered breathing, which could improve with effective treatment of OSA. Endothelial dysfunction is poised to serve as a call for timely intervention with possibility of halting or even reverting vascular injury in sleep-related breathing disorders. Much remains to be explored about the complex pathways of endothelial dysfunction and its clinical manifestations in subjects with OSA, which are likely to involve multiple contributing factors. Evidence-based information will allow us to construct the framework for guiding individualized clinical management and public health strategies for OSA, as well as cardiometabolic diseases.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Atherosclerosis / complications
  • Atherosclerosis / physiopathology*
  • Biomarkers
  • Endothelium, Vascular / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Risk Factors
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / complications
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / physiopathology*
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / complications
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / physiopathology*


  • Biomarkers