Heart failure: Mechanisms of cardiac and vascular dysfunction and the rationale for pharmacologic intervention

G. S. Francis, J. N. Cohn

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

65 Scopus citations


Congestive heart failure is a complex clinical syndrome that has its basis in an abnormality of myocardial cell function resulting in impaired ventricular performance, exercise intolerance, and ventricular arrhythmias. The functional defect in myocardial performance may be related to alterations in receptor function, in regulatory proteins, or in biochemical mechanisms. Remodeling of the left ventricle has been observed to play an important role in the natural course of heart failure. The complex interplay between cellular elongation, reactive hypertrophy, and the influence of the change from ellipsoid to spheroidal shape of the left ventricle after acute myocardial infarction are just beginning to be understood. Prevention of this remodeling effect by pharmacologic intervention is being widely explored, although the mechanisms are poorly defined. Impedance to left ventricular ejection is also an important determinant of cardiac performance in heart failure. Constriction of arteriolar resistance vessels and reduction in compliance of arterial conductance vessels is a common manifestation of heart failure and may be under the influence of neural, hormonal, endothelial, and local regulatory factors. Increased tone of venous capacitance vessels contributes to a shift of blood centrally and to an increase in ventricular preload. Vasodilator drugs by relaxing the arterial, arteriolar, and venous vasculature result in a reduction in impedance and left ventricular afterload and a decrease in cardiac filling pressure and preload. Structural changes of hypertrophy and remodeling apparently contribute to the changes in resistance, compliance, and capacitance in the vasculature. Treatment of heart failure is aimed at relieving symptoms and prolonging life. Interventions to improve left ventricular function are critical to symptom relief. Vasodilators have been most effective for this purpose, and new positive inotropic drugs are being tested for efficacy. Long-term benefit may require interference with the myocardial and peripheral vascular remodeling processes that lead to progressive depression of ventricular performance. New insights into the cellular and subcellular mechanisms of this progression are critical to the development of innovative therapeutic strategies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3068-3075
Number of pages8
JournalFASEB Journal
Issue number13
StatePublished - 1990


  • Aortic constriction
  • Cardiac hypertrophy
  • G protein
  • Metoprolol
  • Myocardial cell
  • Myocardial protein synthesis
  • Sarcoplasmic reticulum

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