1. l-Arginine is the physiological precursor for the formation of endothelium-derived nitric oxide. The synthesis of nitric oxide is stereospecific: d-arginine is not a substrate for nitric oxide synthase. It is possible that the provision of excess l-arginine substrate might increase the vascular synthesis of nitric oxide. We have examined this possibility by studying the effects of local infusion of l-and d-arginine in the forearm resistance bed and the superficial dorsal hand veins of healthy subjects.
2. Drugs were either infused locally into a vein on the back of the hand and then the vein diameter was measured using a linear displacement technique, or into the brachial artery and then the forearm blood flow was measured by venous occlusion plethysmography.
3. In the superficial hand veins, l- and d-arginine free base and l- and d-arginine hydrochloride (all four preparations at a dose of 5 μmol/min) all caused a significant increase in venous diameter. The responses of the l-and d-enantiomers did not differ significantly from one another.
4. In the forearm resistance bed, l- and d-arginine free base and l-arginine hydrochloride were without effect at doses of 10 and 40 μmol/min. However, at doses of 160 μmol/min all three preparations of arginine caused a significant increase in forearm blood flow compared with control values. The responses to the three preparations of arginine did not differ significantly from one another.
5. These results show that arginine in high dose is a vasodilator in both human resistance vessels and superficial veins in vivo. The response to arginine was not stereospecific: both the l- and d-enantiomers had the same effect. The dilator effect of high-dose arginine showed neither arterio-nor veno-selectivity.
6. This suggests that the hypotensive effect of systemic infusions of l-arginine in man is mediated by peripheral vasodilatation. It is not possible to ascribe the actions of arginine supplementation in this study to activation of the l-arginine/nitric oxide pathway through the provision of excess substrate.