1. The vascular and hormonal effects of l- and d-arginine were compared in healthy subjects and in patients with insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus or untreated essential hypertension.

2. Infusion of l- or d-arginine (40 μmol/l) in the forearm vascular bed, sufficient to increase the local concentration approximately 20-fold, had no effect on blood flow or the vasodilator response to acetylcholine (30 and 100 nmol/min) in patients with insulin-dependent diabetes (n = 7) or essential hypertension (n = 7), or in age- and sex-matched control subjects (n = 7 in both groups).

3. Systemic infusion of 10 g of l-arginine (n = 5) or d-arginine (n = 3) increased plasma concentration of arginine approximately 20-fold without altering supine or erect haemodynamics. Increases in plasma insulin, prolactin and glucagon were seen with both enantiomers. The stereopurity of arginine was confirmed in a cell-culture assay system.

4. We conclude that, in healthy subjects and patients with essential hypertension or insulin-dependent diabetes, synthesis of nitric oxide within the vasculature is not limited by substrate availability. At high concentrations of arginine, non-stereospecific effects, including alterations in hormone concentration, occur. It remains to be determined whether these non-stereospecific hormonal changes might contribute to certain haemodynamic effects of arginine.

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