Persistent oxidative stress in the vascular wall may lead to endothelial dysfunction, a pathological process widely implicated in the morbidities observed in a spectrum of cardiovascular disease. The production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) is regulated by various oxidase enzymes and mitochondrial electron transport mechanisms. Nitric oxide (NO) is a key mediator of endothelial function via its effect on endothelium dependent vascular relaxation. Therapeutic interventions aimed to increase NO bioavailability in the vasculature may improve the long term cardiovascular outcome for healthy individuals, high-risk subjects, and patients with advanced atherosclerosis. Current therapeutic strategies focus on enhancing synthesis or lowering oxidative inactivation of NO in human vasculature. Of the available therapeutic agents, angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors and statins have shown most promise at improving endothelial function and cardiovascular outcome after long term administration. Other therapeutic approaches may also be useful towards improving endothelial dysfunction. These strategies include targeting NO synthesis by modulation of endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS) coupling, such as folates and tetrahydrobiopterin. Evidence for the benefits of gene therapy to improve endothelial function is also emerging. However, the long term direct clinical benefit of these strategies aimed to improve endothelial function still remains unclear.
Keywords: Endothelium, nitric oxide, statins, insulin sensitizers, tetrahydrobiopterin, angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors, folates, oxidative stress, reactive oxygen species, endothelial dysfunction
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