The right ventricle in pulmonary arterial hypertension: disorders of metabolism, angiogenesis and adrenergic signaling in right ventricular failure

Circ Res. 2014 Jun 20;115(1):176-88. doi: 10.1161/CIRCRESAHA.113.301129.


The right ventricle (RV) is the major determinant of functional state and prognosis in pulmonary arterial hypertension. RV hypertrophy (RVH) triggered by pressure overload is initially compensatory but often leads to RV failure. Despite similar RV afterload and mass some patients develop adaptive RVH (concentric with retained RV function), while others develop maladaptive RVH, characterized by dilatation, fibrosis, and RV failure. The differentiation of adaptive versus maladaptive RVH is imprecise, but adaptive RVH is associated with better functional capacity and survival. At the molecular level, maladaptive RVH displays greater impairment of angiogenesis, adrenergic signaling, and metabolism than adaptive RVH, and these derangements often involve the left ventricle. Clinically, maladaptive RVH is characterized by increased N-terminal pro-brain natriuretic peptide levels, troponin release, elevated catecholamine levels, RV dilatation, and late gadolinium enhancement on MRI, increased (18)fluorodeoxyglucose uptake on positron emission tomography, and QTc prolongation on the ECG. In maladaptive RVH there is reduced inotrope responsiveness because of G-protein receptor kinase-mediated downregulation, desensitization, and uncoupling of β-adrenoreceptors. RV ischemia may result from capillary rarefaction or decreased right coronary artery perfusion pressure. Maladaptive RVH shares metabolic abnormalities with cancer including aerobic glycolysis (resulting from a forkhead box protein O1-mediated transcriptional upregulation of pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase), and glutaminolysis (reflecting ischemia-induced cMyc activation). Augmentation of glucose oxidation is beneficial in experimental RVH and can be achieved by inhibition of pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase, fatty acid oxidation, or glutaminolysis. Therapeutic targets in RV failure include chamber-specific abnormalities of metabolism, angiogenesis, adrenergic signaling, and phosphodiesterase-5 expression. The ability to restore RV function in experimental models challenges the dogma that RV failure is irreversible without regression of pulmonary vascular disease.

Keywords: Forkhead box protein O1 (FOXO1); G protein receptor kinase 2 (GRK2); adrenergic receptors; fluorodeoxyglucose; glutamine; glycolysis; pyruvate dehydrogenase complex.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cyclic Nucleotide Phosphodiesterases, Type 5 / physiology
  • Familial Primary Pulmonary Hypertension
  • Fibrosis
  • Glycolysis
  • Heart Failure / physiopathology*
  • Heart Ventricles / anatomy & histology
  • Heart Ventricles / metabolism
  • Heart Ventricles / pathology
  • Humans
  • Hypertension, Pulmonary / physiopathology*
  • Hypertrophy, Right Ventricular / complications
  • Hypertrophy, Right Ventricular / physiopathology*
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic / etiology*
  • Receptors, Adrenergic, beta / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*
  • Ventricular Function, Right


  • Receptors, Adrenergic, beta
  • Cyclic Nucleotide Phosphodiesterases, Type 5