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Vascular endothelium is the organ chiefly responsible for the catabolism of plasma asymmetric dimethylarginine – an explanation for the elevation of plasma ADMA in disorders characterized by endothelial dysfunction

Medical Hypotheses
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/j.mehy.2002.11.008
  • Biology


Abstract Plasma levels of asymmetric dimethylarginine (ADMA), an endogenously produced competitive inhibitor of nitric oxide synthase (NOS), have been found to be elevated in a large number of disorders characterized by endothelial dysfunction; this remarkable phenomenon has yet to receive a plausible explanation. ADMA arises by proteolysis of methylated proteins throughout the body; the majority of this ADMA is catabolized by the enzyme dimethylarginine dimethylaminohydrolase (DDAH), found in many tissues, including those that express NOS. Since the production of ADMA can be considered constitutive, and little intact ADMA emerges in the urine, impaired catabolism is most likely responsible for elevations of plasma ADMA. The association of elevated ADMA with endotheliopathy is readily explained if we assume that vascular endothelium is the organ chiefly responsible for the catabolism of plasma ADMA – a view that is credible owing to the privileged access of endothelium to plasma, the capacity of endothelium for active transport of arginine (and methylated arginines), and the ample DDAH activity of healthy endothelial cells – and further assume that endothelial dysfunction is often attended by a loss of DDAH activity and/or an impairment of arginine transport, reducing the efficiency of ADMA catabolism. Indeed, there is recent evidence that DDAH is inhibited by endothelial oxidative stress, a typical feature of endotheliopathy; there is also some reason to suspect that arginine transport may be less efficient in dysfunctional endothelium. From this perspective, increased plasma ADMA is not the primary cause of the endothelial dysfunction in various disorders, but rather its effect – though the rise in ADMA can then exacerbate this dysfunction by inhibiting endothelial NOS. Supplemental arginine should be of some clinical benefit in disorders characterized by elevated ADMA, since it can offset that adverse impact of ADMA on NOS activity, and possibly exert other beneficial effects on endothelium – but it cannot be expected to reverse the primary cause of the endothelial dysfunction. Whether or not ADMA plays an important pathogenic role, it seems likely to emerge as a potent risk factor for adverse vascular events, since it may be viewed as a barometer of endothelial health.

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