Low-grade chronic inflammation, characterized by elevated plasma concentrations of C-reactive protein (CRP), is associated with an increased risk of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. Endothelial cell activation is an early event in atherogenesis, and previous studies have reported correlations between indirect markers of endothelial cell activation and CRP concentration. Therefore, in the present study, we measured CRP concentration (and leptin concentration as an index of fat mass) in nine healthy subjects (mean age 53±8.1 years; body mass index 27±3.2 kg/m2; mean arterial blood pressure 101±9.0 mmHg) undergoing measurement of basal endothelial nitric oxide (NO) synthesis using intra-brachial infusions of NG-monomethyl-l-arginine (l-NMMA; a substrate inhibitor of endothelial NO synthase) and noradrenaline (a non-specific control vasoconstrictor). In univariate analysis, CRP concentration was correlated with (i) the percentage decrease in forearm blood flow (FBF) during l-NMMA infusion (r = 0.85, P = 0.004); and (ii) the serum leptin concentration (r = 0.65, P = 0.05). In multivariate analysis, the relationship between CRP concentration and the FBF response to l-NMMA remained significant when age and leptin (t = 2.65, P = 0.045), age and BMI (t = 3.69, P = 0.014), or age and low-density-lipoprotein-cholesterol plus high-density-lipoprotein-cholesterol (t = 3.37, P = 0.044), were included in regression models. In contrast, the response of FBF to noradrenaline was not significantly related to CRP concentration. These data demonstrate for the first time a relationship between low-grade chronic inflammation and basal endothelial NO synthesis (measured using an invasive method), and support the notion that endothelial dysfunction is a critical intermediate phenotype in the relationship between inflammation and cardiovascular disease.

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