, Volume 20, Issue 7, pp 527-550

Age-Related Endothelial Dysfunction

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Abstract

Aging per se is associated with abnormalities of the vascular wall linked to both structural and functional changes that can take place at the level of the extracellular matrix, the vascular smooth muscle and the endothelium of blood vessels. Endothelial dysfunction is generally defined as a decrease in the capacity of the endothelium to dilate blood vessels in response to physical and chemical stimuli. It is one of the characteristic changes that occur with age, independently of other known cardiovascular risk factors. This may account in part for the increased incidence of cardiovascular events in elderly people that can be reversed by restoring endothelial function. A better understanding of the mechanisms involved and the aetiopathogenesis of this process will help in the search for new therapeutic agents.

Age-dependent alteration of endothelium-dependent relaxation seems to be a widespread phenomenon both in conductance and resistance arteries from several species. In the course of aging, there is an alteration in the equilibrium between relaxing and contracting factors released by the endothelium. Hence, there is a progressive reduction in the participation of nitric oxide and endothelium-derived hyperpolarising factor associated with increased participation of oxygen-derived free radicals and cyclo-oxygenase-derived prostanoids. Also, the endothelin-1 and angiotensin II pathways may play a role in age-related endothelial dysfunction. The use of drugs acting at different levels of these signalling cascades, including antioxidant therapy, lipid-lowering drugs and estrogens, seems to be promising.