Return to the fetal gene program protects the stressed heart: a strong hypothesis

Heart Fail Rev. 2007 Dec;12(3-4):331-43. doi: 10.1007/s10741-007-9034-1.


A common feature of the hemodynamically or metabolically stressed heart is the return to a pattern of fetal metabolism. A hallmark of fetal metabolism is the predominance of carbohydrates as substrates for energy provision in a relatively hypoxic environment. When the normal heart is exposed to an oxygen rich environment after birth, energy substrate metabolism is rapidly switched to oxidation of fatty acids. This switch goes along with the expression of "adult" isoforms of metabolic enzymes and other proteins. However, the heart retains the ability to return to the "fetal" gene program. Specifically, the fetal gene program is predominant in a variety of pathophysiologic conditions including hypoxia, ischemia, hypertrophy, and atrophy. A common feature of all of these conditions is extensive remodeling, a decrease in the rate of aerobic metabolism in the cardiomyocyte, and an increase in cardiac efficiency. The adaptation is associated with a whole program of cell survival under stress. The adaptive mechanisms are prominently developed in hibernating myocardium, but they are also a feature of the failing heart muscle. We propose that in failing heart muscle at a certain point the fetal gene program is no longer sufficient to support cardiac structure and function. The exact mechanisms underlying the transition from adaptation to cardiomyocyte dysfunction are still not completely understood.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Apoptosis
  • Atrophy
  • Cardiomyopathy, Hypertrophic / physiopathology*
  • Cell Survival
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism
  • Fetal Heart / metabolism*
  • Heart Failure / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia / complications*
  • Myocardial Contraction
  • Myocardial Ischemia / physiopathology*
  • Myocardial Ischemia / prevention & control
  • Myocardium*


  • Fatty Acids