Objectives: The purpose of the study was to investigate if apoptosis occurs in skeletal muscle myocytes and its relation to exercise intolerance in patients with chronic heart failure (CHF).
Background: Intrinsic abnormalities of skeletal muscle frequently limit exercise tolerance in CHF patients. Recently, apoptosis has been detected in cardiac myocytes of patients with CHF, suggesting that apoptosis may contribute to the reduced contractile force. The presence and regulation of apoptosis in skeletal myocytes of patients with CHF remains to be defined.
Methods: Skeletal muscle biopsies (m. vastus lateralis) of 34 CHF patients (New York Heart Association functional class II-III) and eight age-matched healthy control subjects were analyzed by terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated deoxyuridine triphosphate nick end-labeling for the presence of apoptosis, and by immunohistochemistry and videodensitometrical quantification for inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) and Bcl-2 expression. Maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max) was determined by ergospirometry.
Results: Apoptosis was detected in 16/34 (47%) patients with CHF and in none of the healthy subjects. Patients with apoptosis-positive skeletal muscle myocytes exhibited a significantly lower VO2max (12.0 +/- 3.7 vs. 18.2 +/- 4.4 ml/kg/min; p = 0.0005), a higher iNOS expression (6.8 +/- 3.6 vs. 3.7 +/- 2.6% iNOS-positive stained tissue area; p = 0.015) and a lower Bcl-2 expression (1.0 +/- 0.3 vs. 1.4 +/- 0.4% Bcl-2-positive tissue area; p = 0.03) as compared with patients with apoptosis-negative biopsies.
Conclusions: These results indicate that apoptosis is frequently found in skeletal muscle obtained from CHF patients, which is associated with significant impairment of functional work capacity. In skeletal muscle of these patients, iNOS and Bcl-2 are possibly involved in the regulation of apoptosis.