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Atherosclerosis. 2006 May;186(1):184-92. Epub 2005 Aug 15.

Endothelium-dependent vasodilation and carotid artery wall remodeling in athletes and sedentary subjects.

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  • 1Department of Internal Medicine, University of Pisa School of Medicine, Via Roma, 67, 56126, Pisa, Italy.


In this study, the relationship between age, carotid artery remodeling, and endothelium-dependent vasodilation is investigated in sedentary subjects and athletes. Thirty-two young and old healthy sedentary subjects and 32 age-matched endurance athletes underwent ultrasonography of the carotid wall for measuring intima-media thickness (IMT) and corrected integrated backscatter (C-IBS), two early indicators of the atherosclerosis process. Endothelium-dependent vasodilation was assessed by intra-brachial acetylcholine (strain-gauge plethysmography), at baseline and during NO sythase inhibitor NG-monomethyl-L-arginine (L-NMMA), and the antioxidant Vitamin C. Response to sodium nitroprusside (SNP) was also evaluated. Independently of trained status, IMT and C-IBS were higher in older than in young individuals (p<0.0001), while response to acetylcholine, but not to SNP, was lower (p<0.0001). Older athletes showed lower IMT, lower C-IBS (p<0.0001), greater response to acetylcholine (p<0.0001), and greater inhibition of acetylcholine by L-NMMA (p<0.001) than older controls. Only in older sedentary individuals, Vitamin C increased response to acetylcholine (p<0.001) and restored the inhibiting effect of L-NMMA (p<0.01). In the whole population maximal acetylcholine-induced vasodilation was inversely related to IMT (r=-0.60, p<0.0001) and to C-IBS (r=-0.56, p<0.0001). In conclusion, regular physical training can attenuate the age-related impairment of endothelium-dependent vasodilation, which is related to an attenuation of the age-induced remodeling of the carotid wall.

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