The role of neurohormonal activation in chronic heart failure and postmyocardial infarction

Am Heart J. 1996 Jul;132(1 Pt 2 Su):229-34.


Chronic heart failure is a disabling and lethal disorder with high incidence and prevalence in Western societies. Treatment with angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and heart transplantations diminish both mortality and morbidity, although both still remain high. Increased understanding of some of the pathophysiologic mechanisms involved in the development of left ventricular dysfunction and the transition from asymptomatic systolic dysfunction to symptomatic heart failure has opened gates to new dimensions for the treatment of this disorder. The initial event in the pathophysiologic process is damage to the myocardium, most frequently a myocardial infarction. Almost simultaneously, activation of different neurohormonal systems occurs. The renin-angiotensin system and sympathetic nervous system are activated. Increased concentrations of hormones with counteractive activity have also been found, such as ANP and BNP. Interestingly, prolonged neurohormonal activation seems to occur only in patients with large infarcts or in patients with poor systolic function of the left ventricle. Moreover, available data from an echocardiographic study indicates that in patients with high concentrations of neurohormones in plasma a week after their infarction, left ventricular dilatation and systolic dysfunction of the left ventricle are highly likely to develop during long-term follow-up. Several studies have showed that ACE inhibitors are efficacious in chronic heart failure and among patients with reduced ejection fraction after myocardial infarction. What these patients have in common is prolonged neurohormonal activation, which theoretically may be harmful to myocardial cell structure and function. ACE inhibitors reduce the breakdown of angiotensin I to angiotensin II and increase the concentration of circulating bradykinins and prostaglandins. Further modulation of neurohormonal activity might be beneficial. Therefore, future treatment of chronic heart failure or asymptomatic left ventricular dysfunction might include beta-adrenergic blockers, neutral endopeptidase inhibitors, ANP, BNP, angiotensin II receptor antagonists, and modulators of sympathetic activity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Chronic Disease
  • Heart Failure / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Myocardial Infarction / physiopathology*
  • Neurosecretory Systems / physiopathology*
  • Renin-Angiotensin System
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / physiopathology
  • Ventricular Dysfunction, Left / physiopathology