In the decade since the angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) gene was first proposed to be a ‘human gene for physical performance’, there have been numerous studies examining the effects of ACE genotype on physical performance phenotypes such as aerobic capacity, muscle function, trainability, and athletic status. While the results are variable and sometimes inconsistent, and corroborating phenotypic data limited, carriers of the ACE ‘insertion’ allele (the presence of an alu repeat element in intron 16 of the gene) have been reported to have higher maximum oxygen uptake (JOURNAL/spome/04.02/00007256-200838120-00008/ENTITY_OV0622/v/2017-09-09T062451Z/r/image-pngO2max), greater response to training, and increased muscle efficiency when compared with individuals carrying the ‘deletion’ allele (absence of the alu repeat). Furthermore, the insertion allele has been reported to be over-represented in elite athletes from a variety of populations representing a number of endurance sports. The mechanism by which the ACE insertion genotype could potentiate physical performance is unknown. The presence of the ACE insertion allele has been associated with lower ACE activity (ACEplasma) in number of studies, suggesting that individuals with an innate tendency to have lower ACE levels respond better to training and are at an advantage in endurance sporting events. This could be due to lower levels of angiotensin II (the vasoconstrictor converted to active form by ACE), higher levels of bradykinin (a vasodilator degraded by ACE) or some combination of the two phenotypes.
Observations that individuals carrying the ACE insertion allele (and presumably lower ACEplasma) have an enhanced response to training or are over-represented amongst elite athletes raises the intriguing question: would individuals with artificially lowered ACEplasma have similar training or performance potential? As there are a number of drugs (i.e. ACE inhibitors and angiotensin II type 1 receptor antagonists [angiotensin receptor blockers – ARBs]) that have the ability to either reduce ACEplasma activity or block the action of angiotensin II, the question is relevant to the study of ergogenic agents and to the efforts to rid sports of ‘doping’. This article discusses the possibility that ACE inhibitors and ARBs, by virtue of their effects on ACE or angiotensin II function, respectively, have performance-enhancing capabilities; it also reviews the data on the effects of these medications on JOURNAL/spome/04.02/00007256-200838120-00008/ENTITY_OV0622/v/2017-09-09T062451Z/r/image-pngO2max, muscle composition and endurance capacity in patient and non-patient populations. We conclude that, while the direct evidence supporting the hypothesis that ACE-related medications are potential doping agents is not compelling, there are insufficient data on young, athletic populations to exclude the possibility, and there is ample, albeit indirect, support from genetic studies to suggest that they should be. Unfortunately, given the history of drug experimentation in athletes and the rapid appropriation of therapeutic agents into the doping arsenal, this indirect evidence, coupled with the availability of ACE-inhibiting and ACE-receptor blocking medications may be sufficiently tempting to unscrupulous competitors looking for a shortcut to the finish line.