Flow-mediated dilatation (FMD) of the brachial artery assessed by high-resolution ultrasound is widely used to measure endothelial function. However, the technique is not standardized, with different groups using occlusion of either the wrist or the upper arm to induce increased blood flow. The validity of the test as a marker of endothelial function rests on the assumption that the dilatation observed is endothelium-dependent and mediated by nitric oxide (NO). We sought to compare the NO component of brachial artery dilatation observed following wrist or upper arm occlusion. Dilatation was assessed before and during intra-arterial infusion of the NO synthase inhibitor NG-monomethyl-l-arginine (l-NMMA) following occlusion of (i) the wrist (distal to ultrasound probe) and (ii) the upper arm (proximal to ultrasound probe) for 5min in ten healthy males. Dilatation was significantly greater after upper arm occlusion (upper arm, 11.62±3.17%; wrist, 7.25±2.49%; P = 0.003). During l-NMMA infusion, dilatation after wrist occlusion was abolished (from 7.25±2.49% to 0.16±2.24%; P < 0.001), whereas dilatation after upper arm occlusion was only partially attenuated (from 11.62±3.17% to 7.51±2.34%; P = 0.006). The peak flow stimulus was similar after wrist and upper arm occlusion. We conclude that dilatation following upper arm occlusion is greater than that observed after wrist occlusion, despite a similar peak flow stimulus. l-NMMA infusion revealed that FMD following wrist occlusion is mediated exclusively by NO, while dilatation following upper arm occlusion comprises a substantial component not mediated by NO, most probably related to tissue ischaemia around the brachial artery. FMD following wrist occlusion may be a more valid marker of endothelial function than dilatation following upper arm occlusion.

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