In the arterial wall nitric oxide (NO) is the key transmitter for endothelium-dependent regulation of vascular tone. It is produced in intact endothelial cells by endothelial NO synthase (eNOS) as the key enzyme from L-arginine. Endothelial NO generation is highly regulated by mechanical, humoral, and metabolic factors. The regulation of NO synthesis occurs at different levels: ENOS gene polymorphisms are related to eNOS expression and activity and may potentially increase coronary event rate, mRNA expression is influenced by estrogen status and shear stress, mRNA stability is enhanced by vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), and final enzyme activity is regulated by the phosphorylation status at serine/threonine residues. Released from endothelial cells NO is rapidly transported to the neighboring vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs), where it induces the production of cGMP as a second messenger. CGMP in turn increases Ca2+ uptake into intracellular calcium stores thereby lowering [Ca2+]i and inducing VSMC relaxation and vasodilation. On its way to the VSMCs NO may be prematurely degraded by reactive oxygen species. On the other hand, chronic endurance exercise with regular bouts of increased laminar flow along the endothelium has the potential to increase eNOS mRNA expression and phosphorylation via AKT (protein kinase B) and to reduce oxidative stress by improving antioxidative protection. The growing knowledge about the complex regulation of NO synthesis and degradation in cardiovascular diseases and its response to exercise has led to a new understanding of the protective effects of long-term habitual physical activity against atherosclerotic heart disease and vascular aging.
Keywords: Endothelial nitric oxide synthase, endothelium, nitric oxide, nitric oxide bioavailability, reactive oxygen species, shear stress, humoral, metabolic factors, endothelial cells, vasodilation, atherosclerotic heart disease, vascular aging, pharmacological stimulation, atherosclerotic cardiac, norepinephrine
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