Pathophysiology of myocardial reperfusion injury: preconditioning, postconditioning, and translational aspects of protective measures

Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2011 Nov;301(5):H1723-41. doi: 10.1152/ajpheart.00553.2011. Epub 2011 Aug 19.


Heart diseases due to myocardial ischemia, such as myocardial infarction or ischemic heart failure, are major causes of death in developed countries, and their number is unfortunately still growing. Preliminary exploration into the pathophysiology of ischemia-reperfusion injury, together with the accumulation of clinical evidence, led to the discovery of ischemic preconditioning, which has been the main hypothesis for over three decades for how ischemia-reperfusion injury can be attenuated. The subcellular pathophysiological mechanism of ischemia-reperfusion injury and preconditioning-induced cardioprotection is not well understood, but extensive research into components, including autacoids, ion channels, receptors, subcellular signaling cascades, and mitochondrial modulators, as well as strategies for modulating these components, has made evolutional progress. Owing to the accumulation of both basic and clinical evidence, the idea of ischemic postconditioning with a cardioprotective potential has been discovered and established, making it possible to apply this knowledge in the clinical setting after ischemia-reperfusion insult. Another a great outcome has been the launch of translational studies that apply basic findings for manipulating ischemia-reperfusion injury into practical clinical treatments against ischemic heart diseases. In this review, we discuss the current findings regarding the fundamental pathophysiological mechanisms of ischemia-reperfusion injury, the associated protective mechanisms of ischemic pre- and postconditioning, and the potential seeds for molecular, pharmacological, or mechanical treatments against ischemia-reperfusion injury, as well as subsequent adverse outcomes by modulation of subcellular signaling mechanisms (especially mitochondrial function). We also review emerging translational clinical trials and the subsistent clinical comorbidities that need to be overcome to make these trials applicable in clinical medicine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cardiovascular Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Humans
  • Ischemic Postconditioning*
  • Ischemic Preconditioning, Myocardial*
  • Myocardial Reperfusion Injury / metabolism
  • Myocardial Reperfusion Injury / pathology
  • Myocardial Reperfusion Injury / physiopathology*
  • Myocardial Reperfusion Injury / prevention & control*
  • Myocardium / metabolism*
  • Myocardium / pathology
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Signal Transduction
  • Time Factors
  • Translational Medical Research*


  • Cardiovascular Agents