Objectives: To review mechanisms underlying sepsis-induced cardiac dysfunction in general and intrinsic myocardial depression in particular.
Data source: MEDLINE database.
Data synthesis: Myocardial depression is a well-recognized manifestation of organ dysfunction in sepsis. Due to the lack of a generally accepted definition and the absence of large epidemiologic studies, its frequency is uncertain. Echocardiographic studies suggest that 40% to 50% of patients with prolonged septic shock develop myocardial depression, as defined by a reduced ejection fraction. Sepsis-related changes in circulating volume and vessel tone inevitably affect cardiac performance. Although the coronary circulation during sepsis is maintained or even increased, alterations in the microcirculation are likely. Mitochondrial dysfunction, another feature of sepsis-induced organ dysfunction, will also place the cardiomyocytes at risk of adenosine triphosphate depletion. However, clinical studies have demonstrated that myocardial cell death is rare and that cardiac function is fully reversible in survivors. Hence, functional rather than structural changes seem to be responsible for intrinsic myocardial depression during sepsis. The underlying mechanisms include down-regulation of beta-adrenergic receptors, depressed postreceptor signaling pathways, impaired calcium liberation from the sarcoplasmic reticulum, and impaired electromechanical coupling at the myofibrillar level. Most, if not all, of these changes are regulated by cytokines and nitric oxide.
Conclusions: Integrative studies are needed to distinguish the hierarchy of the various mechanisms underlying septic cardiac dysfunction. As many of these changes are related to severe inflammation and not to infection per se, a better understanding of septic myocardial dysfunction may be usefully extended to other systemic inflammatory conditions encountered in the critically ill. Myocardial depression may be arguably viewed as an adaptive event by reducing energy expenditure in a situation when energy generation is limited, thereby preventing activation of cell death pathways and allowing the potential for full functional recovery.