The endothelial cells of the vascular system are responsible for many biological activities that maintain vascular homeostasis. Responding to a variety of chemical and physical stimuli, the endothelium elaborates a host of vasoactive agents. One of these agents, endothelium-derived relaxing factor, now accepted as nitric oxide, influences both cellular constituents of the blood and vascular smooth muscle. A principal intracellular target for nitric oxide is guanylate cyclase, which, when activated, increases the intracellular concentration of cyclic guanosine monophosphate, which in turn activates protein kinase G. Acting by this pathway, nitric oxide induces relaxation of vascular smooth muscle and inhibits platelet activation and aggregation. Derangements in endothelial production of nitric oxide are implicated as both cause and consequence of vascular diseases, including hypertension, atherosclerosis, and coronary artery disease.

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