A major cause for endothelial dysfunction in essential hypertension is decreased availability of nitric oxide (NO). Impairment in NO bioavailability is likely to be the consequence of multiple mechanisms affecting NO synthesis as well as NO breakdown. An alteration in the redox balance in endothelial cells leads to increased superoxide anion production and oxidative stress. This in turn not only exerts negative effects on vascular tone, but is also able to activate important mechanisms (such as platelet activity, leukocyte adhesion, vascular smooth muscle cell proliferation and expression of adhesion molecules) with an established central role in the pathogenesis of hypertensive target organ damage. As a consequence, a drug therapy able to restore NO availability in essential hypertensive patients would probably exert additional benefits, as compared to blood pressure lowering per se , in terms of prevention of target organ damage and improved prognosis of these patients. Unfortunately, as of today only the antagonists of the renin-angiotensin system and the calcium-channel blockers have shown some ability in this respect, whereas no longitudinal intervention study has been undertaken, so far, to prove that the restoration of NO bioavailability through an antihypertensive treatment may confer additional prognostic advantage to essential hypertensive patients.
Keywords: hypertension, endothelial function, nitric oxide, reactive oxygen species, antagonists of the renin-angiotensin system, calcium antagonists
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