The cell biology of acute myocardial ischemia

Annu Rev Med. 1991;42:225-46. doi: 10.1146/


The metabolic changes associated with the sudden onset of ischemia caused by occlusion of a major coronary artery include (a) cessation of aerobic metabolism, (b) depletion of creatine phosphate (CP), (c) onset of anaerobic glycolysis, and (d) accumulation of glycolytic products, such as lactate and alpha glycerol phosphate (alpha GP), and catabolites of the nucleotide pools in the tissue. These changes are associated with contractile failure and electrocardiographic alterations. Since the demand of the myocardium for high-energy phosphate (approximately P) exceeds the available supply, the net amount of ATP in tissue decreases. Eighty percent of the supply of approximately P utilized by severely ischemic tissue comes from anaerobic glycolysis using glycogen as the principal substrate. Early in ischemia, contractile activity utilizes ATP, but much of the continuing utilization of ATP by the ischemic tissue is energy wasted via the mitochondrial ATPase. A lesser quantity of ATP is used by ion transport ATPases. Metabolic changes slow as the duration of ischemia increases. Irreversibly injured myocytes exhibit (a) very low levels of ATP (less than 10% of control); (b) cessation of anaerobic glycolysis; (c) high levels of H+, AMP, INO, lactate, and alpha GP; (d) a greatly increased osmolar load; (e) mitochondrial swelling and formation of amorphous matrix densities; and (f) disruption of the sarcolemma. The latter event is generally recognized as lethal, but its pathogenesis remains to be established. Most severely ischemic myocytes are dead in regional ischemia in the anesthetized open-chest dog heart after only 60 minutes of ischemia. Less severely ischemic myocytes in the mid- and subepicardial myocardium survive for as long as six hours. Virtually all myocytes destined to die in a zone of ischemia are irreversibly injured after six hours of ischemia have passed. Certain changes exhibited by myocytes injured by severe ischemia and reperfused late in the reversible phase of injury do not return to the control conditions for a period of days, while others rebound in only seconds to minutes. The adenine nucleotide pool still is not fully restored after four days of reperfusion. Stunning disappears after one to two days of reflow. The preconditioning effect is partially lost after two hours of reperfusion. The timing of its disappearance has not been fully established. Aerobic metabolism is restored after only a few minutes of reperfusion. Thus, reperfusion salvages injured myocardium and restores its structure and function to the control state at a variable rate.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Coronary Disease / metabolism*
  • Coronary Disease / pathology
  • Coronary Disease / therapy
  • Cytoplasm / ultrastructure
  • Endothelium, Vascular / pathology
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Glycolysis
  • Humans
  • Myocardial Reperfusion