Endothelial function in cardiovascular medicine: a consensus paper of the European Society of Cardiology Working Groups on Atherosclerosis and Vascular Biology, Aorta and Peripheral Vascular Diseases, Coronary Pathophysiology and Microcirculation, and Thrombosis

Cardiovasc Res. 2021 Jan 1;117(1):29-42. doi: 10.1093/cvr/cvaa085.


Endothelial cells (ECs) are sentinels of cardiovascular health. Their function is reduced by the presence of cardiovascular risk factors, and is regained once pathological stimuli are removed. In this European Society for Cardiology Position Paper, we describe endothelial dysfunction as a spectrum of phenotypic states and advocate further studies to determine the role of EC subtypes in cardiovascular disease. We conclude that there is no single ideal method for measurement of endothelial function. Techniques to measure coronary epicardial and micro-vascular function are well established but they are invasive, time-consuming, and expensive. Flow-mediated dilatation (FMD) of the brachial arteries provides a non-invasive alternative but is technically challenging and requires extensive training and standardization. We, therefore, propose that a consensus methodology for FMD is universally adopted to minimize technical variation between studies, and that reference FMD values are established for different populations of healthy individuals and patient groups. Newer techniques to measure endothelial function that are relatively easy to perform, such as finger plethysmography and the retinal flicker test, have the potential for increased clinical use provided a consensus is achieved on the measurement protocol used. We recommend further clinical studies to establish reference values for these techniques and to assess their ability to improve cardiovascular risk stratification. We advocate future studies to determine whether integration of endothelial function measurements with patient-specific epigenetic data and other biomarkers can enhance the stratification of patients for differential diagnosis, disease progression, and responses to therapy.

Keywords: Cardiovascular; Endothelial function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / metabolism
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / physiopathology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / therapy
  • Consensus
  • Diagnostic Techniques, Cardiovascular / standards*
  • Endothelial Cells / metabolism
  • Endothelium, Vascular / metabolism
  • Endothelium, Vascular / physiopathology*
  • Heart Disease Risk Factors
  • Humans
  • Observer Variation
  • Phenotype
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prognosis
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Risk Assessment
  • Vasodilation*