Endothelial dysfunction of the coronary microvasculature is associated with coronary blood flow regulation in patients with early atherosclerosis.
BACKGROUND The vascular endothelium is capable of regulating tissue perfusion by the release of endothelium-derived relaxing factor to modulate vasomotor tone of the resistance vasculature.
METHODS AND RESULTS To test whether atherosclerosis is associated with a functional abnormality of endothelium-mediated microvascular relaxation affecting coronary blood flow regulation, we compared coronary blood flow responses with cold pressor testing with the response of the coronary vasculature to acetylcholine (an endothelium-dependent vasodilator) and to papaverin (a direct dilator of vascular smooth muscle) in 12 normal control patients and in 19 patients with non-flow-limiting epicardial atherosclerosis (CAD). The drugs were subselectively infused into the left anterior descending coronary artery via a Doppler catheter, and the response in coronary blood flow was assessed by measuring intracoronary blood flow velocity and cross-sectional arterial area (quantitative angiography). Coronary vascular resistance decreased in all normal control patients by -24.1 +/- 5.5% (mean +/- SD) during the cold pressor test, whereas the CAD patients demonstrated a variable coronary vascular resistance response to cold pressor testing despite comparable changes in the rate-pressure product. The slopes of the acetylcholine dose-blood flow response (percent change in coronary blood flow/dosage of acetylcholine) were significantly reduced in the CAD patients with 38.5 +/- 24.8 compared with the normal patients (80.8 +/- 28.1; p less than 0.001). Although coronary blood flow responses to papaverin were slightly but significantly (p less than 0.05) reduced in the CAD patients, the response to the endothelium-dependent dilator acetylcholine was considerably out of proportion to the papaverin response in these patients compared with the normal patients. The capacity of the coronary system to increase blood flow in response to acetylcholine expressed as relative proportion of the maximal papaverin response was 52.5 +/- 18.2% in the normal control patients but only 33.6 +/- 23.6% in the CAD patients (p less than 0.025 versus normals). There was a significant negative correlation (r = -0.69; p less than 0.0001) between cold pressor test-induced changes in coronary vascular resistance and the capacity of the coronary system to increase blood flow in response to acetylcholine.
CONCLUSIONS Early stages of epicardial atherosclerosis are associated with an impairment in endothelium-dependent dilation of the coronary microvasculature, indicating that the pathophysiological consequences of atherosclerosis may extend into the human coronary microcirculation. The correlation between cold pressor test-induced coronary vascular resistance changes and the extent of endothelial dysfunction suggests a relation between endothelial function of the microvasculature and coronary blood flow regulation during sympathetic stimulation associated with increased myocardial work.
- Copyright © 1991 by American Heart Association