NADPH oxidases (NOX) are enzyme complexes that have received much attention as key molecules in the development of vascular dysfunction. NOX have the primary function of generating reactive oxygen species (ROS), and are considered the main source of ROS production in endothelial cells. The endothelium is a thin monolayer that lines the inner surface of blood vessels, acting as a secretory organ to maintain homeostasis of blood flow. The enzymatic production of nitric oxide (NO) by endothelial NO synthase (eNOS) is critical in mediating endothelial function, and oxidative stress can cause dysregulation of eNOS and endothelial dysfunction. Insulin is a stimulus for increases in blood flow and endothelium-dependent vasodilation. However, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes are characterized by poor control of the endothelial cell redox environment, with a shift toward overproduction of ROS by NOX. Studies in models of type 2 diabetes demonstrate that aberrant NOX activation contributes to uncoupling of eNOS and endothelial dysfunction. It is well-established that endothelial dysfunction precedes the onset of cardiovascular disease, therefore NOX are important molecular links between type 2 diabetes and vascular complications. The aim of the current review is to describe the normal, healthy physiological mechanisms involved in endothelial function, and highlight the central role of NOX in mediating endothelial dysfunction when glucose homeostasis is impaired.
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