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Heikki Vapaatalo, Eero Mervaala
Med Sci Monit 2001; 7(5): RA1075-1085
The endothelium, a continuous cellular monolayer lining the blood vessels, has an enormous range of important homeostatic roles. It serves and participates in highly active metabolic and regulatory functions including control of primary hemostasis, blood coagulation and fibrinolysis, platelet and leukocyte interactions with the vessel wall, interaction with lipoprotein metabolism, presentation of histocompatibility antigens, regulation of vascular tone and growth and further of blood pressure. Many crucial vasoactive endogenous compounds like prostacyclin, thromboxane, nitric oxide, endothelin, angiotensin, endothelium derived hyperpolarizing factor, free radicals and bradykinin are formed in the endothelial cells to control the functions of vascular smooth muscle cells and of circulating blood cells. These versatile and complex systems and cellular interactions are extremely vulnerable. The balances may be disturbed by numerous endogenous and exogenous factors including psychological and physical stress, disease states characterized by vasospasm, inflammation, leukocyte and platelet adhesion and aggregation, thrombosis, abnormal vascular proliferation, atherosclerosis and hypertension. The endothelial cells are also the site of action of many drugs and exogenous toxic substances (e.g. smoking, alcohol). As markers and assays for endothelial dysfunction, direct measurement of nitric oxide, its metabolites from plasma and urine, functional measurement of vascular nitric oxide dependent responses and assay of different circulating markers have been used. In numerous pathological conditions (e.g. atherosclerosis, hypertension, congestive heart failure, hyperhomocysteinemia, diabetes, renal failure, transplantation, liver cirrhosis) endothelial dysfunction has been described to exist. Some of them, as well as hormonal and nutritional factors and drug treatment will be discussed in this short review.