The vascular endothelium is a monolayer of cells that cover the interior of blood vessels and provide both structural and functional roles. The endothelium acts as a barrier, preventing leukocyte adhesion and aggregation, as well as controlling permeability to plasma components. Functionally, the endothelium affects vessel tone. Endothelial dysfunction is an imbalance between the chemical species which regulate vessel tone, thombroresistance, cellular proliferation and mitosis. It is the first step in atherosclerosis and is associated with coronary artery disease, peripheral artery disease, heart failure, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia. The first demonstration of endothelial dysfunction involved direct infusion of acetylcholine and quantitative coronary angiography. Acetylcholine binds to muscarinic receptors on the endothelial cell surface, leading to an increase of intracellular calcium and increased nitric oxide (NO) production. In subjects with an intact endothelium, vasodilation was observed while subjects with endothelial damage experienced paradoxical vasoconstriction. There exists a non-invasive, in vivo method for measuring endothelial function in peripheral arteries using high-resolution B-mode ultrasound. The endothelial function of peripheral arteries is closely related to coronary artery function. This technique measures the percent diameter change in the brachial artery during a period of reactive hyperemia following limb ischemia. This technique, known as endothelium-dependent, flow-mediated vasodilation (FMD) has value in clinical research settings. However, a number of physiological and technical issues can affect the accuracy of the results and appropriate guidelines for the technique have been published. Despite the guidelines, FMD remains heavily operator dependent and presents a steep learning curve. This article presents a standardized method for measuring FMD in the brachial artery on the upper arm and offers suggestions to reduce intra-operator variability.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01310270.