Dietary copper in the physiology of the microcirculation

J Nutr. 1997 Dec;127(12):2274-81. doi: 10.1093/jn/127.12.2274.


Dietary copper has long been known to be essential for cardiovascular homeostasis. However, the role of copper and cuproenzymes in the normal control of vascular physiology is not well understood. Most studies in the cardiovascular system have focused on copper deficiency-induced defects in the heart or large vessels. Recently, attention has also focused on the effects of copper deficiency in the microcirculation or the small blood vessels that control blood flow, nutrient and waste exchange, and peripheral vascular resistance. Studies in the microcirculation demonstrate that copper is important in mechanisms of macromolecular leakage, platelet-endothelial interactions and vascular smooth muscle reactivity. There is a significantly greater leakage of proteins from postcapillary venules in copper-deficient rats in response to mast cell-released histamine. This response appears to be the result of increased numbers of mast cells and thereby increased available histamine. Copper deficiency also causes an inhibition of in vivo thrombogenesis, which appears to be related to an inhibition of platelet adhesion. Subsequent studies have demonstrated that this is probably caused by a diminished concentration of the adhesion molecule von Willebrand factor. Nitric oxide (NO)-mediated arteriole vasodilation is also compromised in copper-deficient rats. This functional deficit to NO can be reversed by the addition of Cu, Zn-superoxide dismutase (SOD), suggesting that degradation of NO by superoxide anion occurs during copper deprivation. These observations demonstrate that dietary copper is necessary for several microvascular control mechanisms affecting inflammation, microhemostasis and regulation of peripheral blood flow.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Copper / deficiency*
  • Copper / physiology*
  • Diet*
  • Endothelium, Vascular / physiology
  • Hemostasis / physiology
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / physiopathology
  • Microcirculation / physiology*
  • Muscle, Smooth, Vascular / physiology
  • Rats


  • Copper