1. Nitric oxide (NO) has important roles in physiological vasodilatation, cytotoxicity and vascular disease. Nitric oxide and prostacyclin (PGI2), both released from the endothelium, act synergistically to inhibit platelet aggregation and adhesion. These autacoids also inhibit the adhesion and migration of leucocytes and, in some arteries, they synergize in terms of vasodilatation.
2. The development of atherosclerosis and hyperlipaemia per se is accompanied by impairment of endothelium-dependent vasodilatation.
3. Atherosclerosis is associated with marked changes in the activity of isoforms of NO synthase (NOS) in the artery wall, including increased expression of the NOS2 (inducible) isoform in complex human lesions as well as in the neointima of experimental animal models.
4. Failure of NO release from the endothelium with normal physiological stimuli, which has been attributed to a defect in the operation of the endothelial NOS (NOS3), provides conditions propitious for leucocyte adhesion, vasospasm, thrombosis and, in addition, may promote increased proliferation of intimal cells.
5. Nitric oxide and superoxide anions generated by inflammatory cells in atherosclerosis react to form cytodestructive peroxynitrite radicals, potentially causing injury to the endothelium and myocytes, and this may be a factor in apoptosis of cells leading to plaque rupture.
We have been able to reverse these NO defects with therapeutic agents, including angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, antagonists of platelet-activating factor and NO donor compounds, all offering promise in protecting against some manifestations of vascular disease.