New insights into resting and exertional right ventricular performance in the healthy heart through real-time pressure-volume analysis

J Physiol. 2020 Jul;598(13):2575-2587. doi: 10.1113/JP279759. Epub 2020 May 18.


Key points: Despite growing interest in right ventricular form and function in diseased states, there is a paucity of data regarding characteristics of right ventricular function - namely contractile and lusitropic reserve, as well as ventricular-arterial coupling, in the healthy heart during rest, as well as submaximal and peak exercise. Pressure-volume analysis of the right ventricle, during invasive cardiopulmonary exercise testing, demonstrates that that the right heart has enormous contractile reserve, with a three- or fourfold increase in all metrics of contractility, as well as myocardial energy production and utilization. The healthy right ventricle also demonstrates marked augmentation in lusitropy, indicating that diastolic filling of the right heart is not passive. Rather, the right ventricle actively contributes to venous return during exercise, along with the muscle pump. Ventricular-arterial coupling is preserved during submaximal and peak exercise in the healthy heart.

Abstract: Knowledge of right ventricular (RV) function has lagged behind that of the left ventricle and historically, the RV has even been referred to as a 'passive conduit' of lesser importance than its left-sided counterpart. Pressure-volume (PV) analysis is the gold standard metric of assessing ventricular performance. We recruited nine healthy sedentary individuals free of any cardiopulmonary disease (42 ± 12 years, 78 ± 11 kg), who completed invasive cardiopulmonary exercise testing during upright ergometry, while using conductance catheters inserted into the RV to generate real-time PV loops. Data were obtained at rest, two submaximal levels of exercise below ventilatory threshold, to simulate real-world scenarios/activities of daily living, and maximal effort. Breath-by-breath oxygen uptake was determined by indirect calorimetry. During submaximal and peak exercise, there were significant increases in all metrics of systolic function by three- to fourfold, including cardiac output, preload recruitable stroke work, and maximum rate of pressure change in the ventricle (dP/dtmax ), as well as energy utilization as determined by stroke work and pressure-volume area. Similarly, the RV demonstrated a significant, threefold increase in lusitropic reserve throughout exercise. Ventricular-arterial coupling, defined by the quotient of end-systolic elastance and effective arterial elastance, was preserved throughout all stages of exercise. Maximal pressures increased significantly during exercise, while end-diastolic volumes were essentially unchanged. Overall, these findings demonstrate that the healthy RV is not merely a passive conduit, but actively participates in cardiopulmonary performance during exercise by accessing an enormous amount of contractile and lusitropic reserve, ensuring that VA coupling is preserved throughout all stages of exercise.

Keywords: exercise; hemodynamics; right ventricle.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Heart
  • Heart Ventricles*
  • Humans
  • Stroke Volume
  • Ventricular Dysfunction, Right*
  • Ventricular Function, Right