Tissue Sodium Storage in Patients With Heart Failure: A New Therapeutic Target?

Circ Cardiovasc Imaging. 2021 Nov;14(11):e012910. doi: 10.1161/CIRCIMAGING.121.012910. Epub 2021 Nov 16.


Background: Preclinical data suggest sodium deposited (without water) in tissues may lead to aberrant remodeling and systemic inflammation, independently of fluid overload in patients with heart failure (HF). Tissue salt storage can be measured noninvasively and quantitatively with 23Na-magnetic resonance imaging. We aimed to investigate the possibility that patients with HF complicated by renal dysfunction are subject to higher tissue sodium concentration exposure than patients with chronic kidney disease alone.

Methods: We conducted an exploratory study including 18 patients with HF, 34 hemodialysis patients (with no meaningful renal clearance of sodium), and 31 patients with chronic kidney disease, with glomerular filtration rate matched to the patients with HF. Every patient underwent 23Na-magnetic resonance imaging of the calf, to quantify tissue sodium and allow comparison among the 3 patient groups.

Results: There were no differences in age, sex, and body mass index between groups. Median (interquartile range) skin sodium content in HF (31 [23-37] mmol/L) was very high and indistinguishable from skin sodium content in hemodialysis patients (30 [22-35] mmol/L), P=0.6. Patients with HF exhibited significantly higher skin sodium content than matched estimated glomerular filtration rate chronic kidney disease patients (22 [19-26] mmol/L), P=0.005. Median muscle sodium content in patients with HF was significantly higher than in patients with chronic kidney disease, P=0.002. There was no relationship with estimated glomerular filtration rate in patients with HF. We report a significant correlation between skin sodium and urinary sodium (P=0.04) but no correlation with muscle sodium. Patients who were assessed as being volume depleted (sodium excretion fraction <1%) had lower skin sodium content than patients with sodium excretion fraction >1% (P=0.03).

Conclusions: We have demonstrated that patients with HF characteristically have very high levels of skin sodium storage, comparable to well-characterized extreme levels seen in patients with end-stage kidney disease requiring hemodialysis. 23Na-magnetic resonance imaging may allow precision medicine in the management of this challenging group of patients with HF. Registration: URL: https://www.clinicaltrials.gov; Unique identifier: NCT03004547.

Keywords: body mass index; glomerular filtration rate; heart failure; inflammation; sodium.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Glomerular Filtration Rate / physiology*
  • Heart Failure / complications
  • Heart Failure / metabolism*
  • Heart Failure / therapy
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pilot Projects
  • Renal Dialysis / methods*
  • Renal Insufficiency, Chronic / complications
  • Renal Insufficiency, Chronic / diagnosis
  • Renal Insufficiency, Chronic / metabolism*
  • Skin / metabolism*
  • Sodium / metabolism*
  • Stroke Volume / physiology*


  • Biomarkers
  • Sodium

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT03004547

Grant support