The endothelium is increasingly recognized as a modulator of vascular tone, and evidence also is accumulating for an important role of the endothelium in humans in vivo. Endothelial release of prostacylin appears to regulate hyperemic blood flow after ischemia and muscle exercise, and the potent vasodilating properties of endothelium-derived relaxing factor (EDRF) are well established. Tonic release of EDRF plays an important role in the regulation of vascular tone in normal subjects, and a reduction of EDRF release in response to muscarinergic stimulation has been described in subjects with uncomplicated hypertension and also in hyperlipidemic patients. These observations point toward an early disturbance of endothelial function in disorders known as risk factors for the development of atherosclerosis. Furthermore, altered EDRF release and responsiveness to stimuli may be involved in the disturbed regulation of peripheral vascular tone in congestive heart failure. The physiological role of the vasoconstricting peptide endothelin-1 is not yet defined, but the study of the vascular actions of the peptide in humans has shown a vasodilating effect (for low dosages or when the vasconstricting effects are blocked), as well as a marked and long-lasting vasoconstricting effect. Although the mechanisms leading to vasodilation are not clear in humans, endothelin-1-induced vasoconstriction appears to be completely dependent on the activity of voltage-operated calcium channels and can be blocked by organic calcium antagonists but not by nitrovasodilators or EDRF. Further clarification of the role of the endothelium will provide a better understanding of circulatory physiology and pathophysiology and eventually may lead to the development of new therapeutic modalities.
- Copyright © 1991 by American Heart Association