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J Cardiovasc Pharmacol. 2001 Apr;37 Suppl 1:S21-30.

Vascular protective effects of angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors and their relation to clinical events.

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  • 1Cardiology, University Hospital Zürich, Switzerland.


Endothelial cells are a rich source of a variety of vasoactive substances, which either cause vasodilation or vasoconstriction. Important endothelium-derived vasodilators are prostacyclin, bradykinin, nitric oxide and endothelium-derived hyperpolarizing factor. In particular, nitric oxide inhibits cellular growth and migration. In concert with prostacyclin. nitric oxide exerts potent anti-atherogenic and thromboresistant properties by preventing platelet aggregation and cell adhesion. Endothelium-derived contracting factors include the 21 amino acid peptide endothelin (ET). vasoconstrictor prostanoids such as thromboxane A2 and prostaglandin H2, as well as free radicals and components of the renin angiotensin system. In hypertension, elevated blood pressure transmits into cardiovascular disease by causing endothelial dysfunction. Hence, modem therapeutic strategies in human hypertension focus on preserving or restoring endothelial integrity. Angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors are a primary candidate for that concept as they inhibit the circulating and local renin angiotensin system. Angiotensin converting enzyme is an endothelial enzyme which converts angiotensin-I (A-I) into angiotensin-II (A-II). This effect of the ACE inhibitor prevents direct effects of angiotensin-II such as vasoconstriction and proliferation in the vessel wall but also prevents activation of the ET system and of plasminogen activator inhibitor. Furthermore, inhibition of ACE prolongs the half-life of bradykinin and stabilizes bradykinin receptors linked to the formation of nitric oxide and prostacyclin. In isolated arteries ACE inhibitors prevent the contractions induced by angiotensin II and enhance relaxation induced by bradykinin. Chronic treatment of experimental hypertension with ACE inhibitors normalizes endothelium-dependent relaxation to acetylcholine and other agonists. In addition, the dilator effects of exogenous nitric oxide donors are enhanced, at least in certain models of hypertension. In humans with essential hypertension ACE inhibitors augment endothelium-dependent relaxation to bradykinin, while those to acetylcholine remain unaffected, at least in the time frame of the published studies, i.e. 3-6 months. In patients with coronary artery disease, however, paradoxical vasoconstriction to acetylcholine is markedly reduced after 6 months of ACE inhibition. After myocardial infarction ACE inhibitors reduce the development of overt heart failure, the occurrence of reinfarction and cardiovascular death in hypertensive patients. These effects have also been demonstrated in a subgroup analysis of the SOLVD (Studies of Left Ventricular Dysfunction) trial. Thus, in summary, ACE inhibitors are an important class of drugs providing cardiovascular protection in patients with increased cardiovascular risk.

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