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Diabetes. 1998 Mar;47(3):457-63.

Endothelial dysfunction and the expression of endothelial nitric oxide synthetase in diabetic neuropathy, vascular disease, and foot ulceration.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, Microcirculation Lab, Beth Israel-Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, MA 02215, USA.


We studied endothelial-mediated microvascular blood flow in neuropathic diabetic patients to determine the association between endothelial regulation of the microcirculation and the expression of endothelial constitutive nitric oxide synthetase (ecNOS) in the skin. Vasodilation on the dorsal foot in response to heating and iontophoresis of acetylcholine (endothelium-dependent) and sodium nitroprusside (endothelium-independent) were measured using single-point laser Doppler and laser Doppler imaging in diabetic patients with neuropathy (DN), with neuropathy and vascular disease (DI), with Charcot arthropathy (DA), and without complications (D), and in healthy control subjects (C). The response to heat was reduced in the DN (321 [21-629] percentage of increase over the baseline, median [interquartile range]) and DI (225 [122-470]) groups but was preserved in the DA (895 [359-1,229]), D (699 [466-1,029]), and C (810 [440-1,064], P < 0.0001) groups. The endothelial-mediated response to acetylcholine was reduced in the DN (17 [11-25]), DA (22 [2-34]), and DI (13 [2-30]) groups compared with the D (47 [24-58]) and C (44 [31-70], P < 0.001) groups. The non-endothelial-mediated response to sodium nitroprusside was also reduced in the DI (4 [0-18]), DN (17 [9-26]), and DA (21 [11-31]) groups compared with the D (37 [19-41]) and C (44 [26-67], P < 0.0001) groups. There was a significant reduction in vasodilation in the DI group compared with all other groups (P < 0.0001). Full thickness skin biopsies from the dorsum of the foot of 15 DN, 10 DI, and 11 C study subjects were immunostained with antiserum to human ecNOS, the functional endothelial marker GLUT1, and the anatomical endothelial marker von Willebrand factor. The staining intensity of ecNOS was reduced in both diabetic groups. No differences were found among the three groups in the staining intensity of von Willebrand factor and GLUT1. We conclude that the endothelium-dependent and endothelium-independent vasodilations are impaired in diabetic patients predisposed to foot ulceration and that neuropathy is the main factor associated with this abnormality. Reduced expression of ecNOS may be a major contributing factor for endothelial dysfunction. These data provide support for a close association of neuropathy and microcirculation in the pathogenesis of foot ulceration.

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