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- The functional importance of the microcirculation
- Assessment of skin microvessel function in humans
- Microvessel ageing throughout the human lifespan
- Mechanisms of change in microvessel endothelial function throughout the lifespan
Age is a primary risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and this is an increasingly important public health concern because of an increase in the absolute number and proportion of the population at an older age in many countries. A key component of cardiovascular ageing is reduced function of the vascular endothelium, and this probably contributes to the impaired microvessel function observed with ageing in multiple vascular beds. In turn, impaired microvessel function is thought to contribute to the pathophysiology of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. Here we review evidence that the first signs of altered endothelial and microvessel function can appear in childhood and at all stages of the human lifespan; low-birth-weight babies have reduced endothelial function in skin microvessels at 3 months, and by age 10 years their brachial artery endothelial function is reduced in comparison with normal-birth-weight babies. In overweight/obese adolescent children with clustering of traditional cardiovascular disease risk factors, endothelial function is reduced compared with normal-weight children, and this appears to persist into early adulthood. Adult ageing is associated with impaired microvessel endothelial function and an increase in capillary blood pressure. Biological and lifestyle factors that influence microvessel function include body fat and visceral adiposity, sex hormone status, diet and physical activity. The mechanisms underlying age-associated changes in microvessel function are uncertain but may involve alterations in nitric oxide, prostanoid, endothelium-derived hyperpolarizing factor(s) and endothelin-1 pathways.