1. The dose-response to acetylcholine has been examined in dorsal hand veins of healthy volunteers before and after removal of the endothelium.
2. Measurements were made in single dorsal hand veins during local infusions of acetylcholine. The vein was irrigated with distilled water to remove the endothelium. Dilator studies were performed in vessels preconstricted by a continuous infusion of noradrenaline.
3. In the endothelium-intact vessel the dose-response to acetylcholine was biphasic; low doses produced venodilatation with higher doses causing venoconstriction.
4. Dilatation to low doses of acetylcholine was abolished by prior irrigation with distilled water, consistent with denudation of the endothelium by this process. Irrigation augmented the constriction seen in response to higher doses of acetylcholine.
5. This is the first demonstration of an endothelium-dependent biphasic dose-response to acetylcholine in man. The results raise questions as to the possible physiological actions of endogenous acetylcholine and as to the use of the acetylcholine dose-response curve as a marker of endothelial function.