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J Nutr. 2004 Oct;134(10 Suppl):2842S-2847S; discussion 2853S. doi: 10.1093/jn/134.10.2842S.

Asymmetric dimethylarginine, an endogenous inhibitor of nitric oxide synthase, explains the "L-arginine paradox" and acts as a novel cardiovascular risk factor.

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Clinical Pharmacology Unit, Institute of Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology, Center of Experimental Medicine, University Hospital, Hamburg-Eppendorf, 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 competitive inhibitor of NO synthase. ADMA inhibits vascular NO production in concentrations found in pathophysiological conditions; ADMA also causes local vasoconstriction when it is infused intraarterially. Thus, elevated ADMA levels may explain the "L-arginine paradox," i.e., the observation that supplementation with exogenous L-arginine improves NO-mediated vascular functions in vivo, although its baseline plasma concentration is about 25-fold higher than the Michaelis-Menten constant K(m) of the isolated, purified endothelial NO synthase in vitro. The biochemical and physiological pathways related to ADMA are well understood: Dimethylarginines are the result of degradation of methylated proteins; the methyl group is derived from S-adenosylmethionine. Both ADMA and its regioisomer, symmetric dimethylarginine, are eliminated from the body by renal excretion, whereas only ADMA 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. Plasma ADMA levels are increased in 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 increasing knowledge of the role of ADMA in the pathogenesis of cardiovascular disease, ADMA is becoming a goal for pharmacotherapeutic interventions. Among other potential strategies that are currently being tested, administration of L-arginine has been shown to improve endothelium-dependent vascular functions in subjects with high ADMA levels. Finally, ADMA has gained clinical importance recently because several studies have shown that ADMA is an independent cardiovascular risk factor.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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