A mild to moderate elevation of the total homocysteine concentration (tHcy) is now recognized as a risk factor for vascular disease. It is also associated with endothelial dysfunction in middle-aged and elderly individuals without overt atherosclerotic vascular disease. This is important, as endothelial dysfunction is a well recognized early and potentially reversible marker of the atherosclerotic process. We investigated whether mild hyperhomocysteinaemia was associated with endothelial dysfunction in otherwise healthy young males. We compared endothelial function, by measuring forearm blood flow, in 17 males with mild hyperhomocysteinaemia (defined as tHcy > 10 µmol/l) and 14 controls with low tHcy (defined as < 5 µmol/l). Forearm blood flow was measured in response to the intra-arterial infusion of acetylcholine (endothelial-dependent response) or sodium nitroprusside (endothelial-independent response). Responses to the vasoactive substances were expressed as the area under the curve of the change in forearm blood flow from baseline. Data are given as mean (95% confidence interval). The two groups were well matched for age, body mass index, pulse rate and blood pressure. tHcy was significantly different between the groups [12.3 (10.4–14.2) µmol/l compared with 4.9 (4.6–5.1) µmol/l; P < 0.001]. Concentrations of vitamin B12 and folate were significantly higher in the control group. There was no difference in basal forearm blood flow between the group with mild hyperhomocysteinaemia and the controls, and both the endothelial-dependent [37.5 (26.2–38.8) and 35.3 (26.1–44.4) arbitrary units respectively] and -independent [26.1 (22.2–29.9) and 25.9 (21.0–30.8) units respectively] responses were not significantly different between the groups. Thus the present study demonstrates that, in healthy adults, mild elevation of tHcy was not associated with impaired endothelial-dependent vasodilation. These data suggest an age effect with regard to homocysteine and endothelial dysfunction. The development of vascular disease in individuals with hyperhomocysteinaemia may only result with higher concentrations or after prolonged exposure.

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