1. Cigarette smoking is one of the major risk factors for the development of atherosclerosis. It is not clear, however, whether chronic cigarette smoking impairs the normal physiological function of the endothelium before the development of morphological vascular lesions. To test this, we investigated endothelium-dependent vascular relaxation in young habitual smoking subjects.

2. In 11 non-smokers and 10 habitual smokers we measured the changes in bilateral forearm blood flow, arterial blood pressure and forearm vascular resistance (ratio between mean arterial blood pressure and forearm blood flow) during three interventions: postocclusive forearm hyperaemia, intrabrachial infusion of methacholine which causes vasodilatation by stimulating the release of endothelium-dependent relaxing factor, and intrabrachial infusion of sodium nitroprusside which causes vasodilatation independently from the endothelium by a direct effect on the vascular smooth muscle wall.

3. During infusion of the highest dose of methacholine, forearm vascular resistance decreased by 91.7 ± 1.4% in the smokers and by 89.9 ± 1.8% in the non-smokers. During infusion of sodium nitroprusside, forearm vascular resistance decreased by 80.0 ± 3.8% in the smokers as compared with 80.7 ± 6.1% in the non-smokers. There was no difference in basal forearm vascular resistance or in post-ischaemic reactive hyperaemia between smokers and non-smokers. Thus, vasodilatation induced by both methacholine and sodium nitroprusside was not significantly different between smokers and non-smokers.

4. We conclude that in young habitual cigarette smokers the endothelium-dependent vasodilatation in the forearm seems to be preserved, suggesting that habitual smoking does not result in permanent endothelial dysfunction in the human forearm.

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