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Cardiovasc Res. 2003 Oct 1;59(4):824-33.

The emerging role of asymmetric dimethylarginine as a novel cardiovascular risk factor.

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  • 1Clinical Pharmacology Unit, Institute of Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology, Center of Experimental Medicine, University Hospital Hamburg-Eppendorf, D-20246 Hamburg, Germany.


There is abundant evidence that the endothelium plays a crucial role in the maintenance of vascular tone and structure. One of the major endothelium-derived vasoactive mediators is nitric oxide (NO). Asymmetric dimethylarginine (ADMA) is an endogenous inhibitor of NO synthase. ADMA inhibits vascular NO production at concentrations found in pathophysiological conditions (i.e., 3-15 micromol/l); ADMA also causes local vasoconstriction when it is infused intraarterially. The biochemical and physiological pathways related to ADMA are now well understood: dimethylarginines are the result of the degradation of methylated proteins; the methyl group is derived from S-adenosylmethionine. Both ADMA and its regioisomer, SDMA, are eliminated from the body by renal excretion, whereas only ADMA, but not SDMA, is metabolized via hydrolytic degradation to citrulline and dimethylamine by the enzyme dimethylarginine dimethylaminohydrolase (DDAH). DDAH activity and/or expression may therefore contribute to the pathogenesis of endothelial dysfunction in various diseases. ADMA is increased in the plasma of humans with hypercholesterolemia, atherosclerosis, hypertension, chronic renal failure, and chronic heart failure. Increased ADMA levels are associated with reduced NO synthesis as assessed by impaired endothelium-dependent vasodilation. In several prospective and cross-sectional studies, ADMA evolved as a marker of cardiovascular risk. With our increasing knowledge of the role of ADMA in the pathogenesis of cardiovascular disease, ADMA is becoming a goal for pharmacotherapeutic intervention. Among other treatments, the administration of L-arginine has been shown to improve endothelium-dependent vascular function in subjects with high ADMA levels.

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