Effect of exercise training on endothelium-derived nitric oxide function in humans


Corresponding author D. Green: School of Human Movement and Exercise Science, University of Western Australia, Mailbag Delivery M408, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley WA 6009, Australia. Email:


Vascular endothelial function is essential for maintenance of health of the vessel wall and for vasomotor control in both conduit and resistance vessels. These functions are due to the production of numerous autacoids, of which nitric oxide (NO) has been the most widely studied. Exercise training has been shown, in many animal and human studies, to augment endothelial, NO-dependent vasodilatation in both large and small vessels. The extent of the improvement in humans depends upon the muscle mass subjected to training; with forearm exercise, changes are restricted to the forearm vessels while lower body training can induce generalized benefit. Increased NO bioactivity with exercise training has been readily and consistently demonstrated in subjects with cardiovascular disease and risk factors, in whom antecedent endothelial dysfunction exists. These conditions may all be associated with increased oxygen free radicals which impact on NO synthase activity and with which NO reacts; repeated exercise and shear stress stimulation of NO bioactivity redresses this radical imbalance, hence leading to greater potential for autacoid bioavailability. Recent human studies also indicate that exercise training may improve endothelial function by up-regulating eNOS protein expression and phosphorylation. While improvement in NO vasodilator function has been less frequently found in healthy subjects, a higher level of training may lead to improvement. Regarding time course, studies indicate that short-term training increases NO bioactivity, which acts to homeostatically regulate the shear stress associated with exercise. Whilst the increase in NO bioactivity dissipates within weeks of training cessation, studies also indicate that if exercise is maintained, the short-term functional adaptation is succeeded by NO-dependent structural changes, leading to arterial remodelling and structural normalization of shear. Given the strong prognostic links between vascular structure, function and cardiovascular events, the implications of these findings are obvious, yet many unanswered questions remain, not only concerning the mechanisms responsible for NO bioactivity, the nature of the cellular effect and relevance of other autacoids, but also such practical questions as the optimal intensity, modality and volume of exercise training required in different populations.