Elevation of plasma VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor) has been noted in patients with hypertension or atherosclerosis. VEGF has been regarded as a marker for endothelial dysfunction. However, the role of VEGF in hypertension-induced vascular injury and its relationship with endothelial function have not been studied. This study included 20 untreated hypertensive men with grade 1 or 2 hypertensive retinopathy, 10 untreated hypertensive men without hypertensive retinopathy and 10 healthy controls. None of the hypertensive patients had diabetes, renal impairment or overt vascular diseases. Plasma VEGF and adhesion molecules were measured using ELISAs. Endothelial function was measured by FMD (flow-mediated vasodilation) of the brachial artery. Plasma levels of VEGF, excluding adhesion molecules, were significantly higher in hypertensive patients with retinopathy when compared with patients without retinopathy (152.4 ± 80.8 pg/ml versus 104.7 ± 27.2 pg/ml, P = 0.035) or controls (152.4 ± 80.8 pg/ml versus 98.9 ± 23.7 pg/ml, P = 0.025). Levels of FMD were significantly lower in hypertensive patients than controls, but there were no significant differences between patients with or without retinopathy. Degrees of FMD were inversely correlated with VEGF levels (r = -0.351, P = 0.031). Elevation of plasma VEGF was associated with hypertensive retinopathy. Plasma VEGF could be used as a marker of early vascular damage induced by hypertension.
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