Atherosclerosis is a chronic systemic disease of the vasculature with an inflammatory component. It accounts for the majority of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality in industrialized countries and its incidence is increasing in developing countries. The impairment of vascular endothelial cell function in atherosclerosis and in conditions associated with increased cardiovascular risk is an important determinant of disease progression. The reduction of endothelium-dependent relaxation in the coronary and systemic circulation in atherosclerosis is in part due to decreased bioavailability of nitric oxide and increased release of oxygen-derived free radicals. Atherosclerosis also increases the formation of vasoconstrictors and growth factors, adhesion of leukocytes, thrombosis, inflammation, cell proliferation, as well as increases in vascular tone. Here we review mechanisms and therapeutic approaches to improve endothelial pathways in atherosclerosis. Restoration of NO bioactivity through pharmacological inhibition of the renin-angiotensin system, statin therapy, or endothelin receptor blockade, ameliorates vascular function in experimental hypercholesterolemia, hypertension and heart failure. These treatments also have therapeutic benefit for patients at risk or with overt atherosclerosis, to reduce vascular and myocardial complications of this disease.
Keywords: ace inhibitors, atherosclerosis, endothelium, endothelin, nitric oxide, risk factors, statins, vascular