Clinical heart failure results from the cumulative loss of functioning myocardium from any cause. At the cellular level, cardiac myocytes die from three causes, individually or in combination: Necrosis occurs when external conditions are not sufficient to sustain minimal cellular functions, as with ischemia, and there is a general and unorganized breakdown of cell organelles, engendering an inflammatory response that may have harmful collateral tissue effects. Apoptosis, or cell suicide, occurs when specific external or internal conditions provoke a highly structured sequence of events to shut down cellular functions and remove the cell, with minimal consequences to surrounding tissue. Autophagy is a normal response to cell starvation that is induced under conditions of chronic metabolic or other stress. Current therapeutics, such as early myocardial revascularization after myocardial infarction, are focused exclusively upon minimizing cardiac myocyte necrosis and may even contribute to secondary apoptosis and autophagy. This review explores possible approaches to bring cardiac myocytes that are destined to die, back to life, i.e., cellular resuscitation. Two pro-apoptotic proteins in particular, Bnip3 and Nix, are transcriptionally upregulated specifically in response to myocardial ischemia and pathological hypertrophy and have been examined as therapeutic targets. In Bnip3 and Nix genetic mouse models, prevention of cardiac myocyte apoptosis in ischemic and hemodynamically overloaded hearts salvaged myocardium, minimized late ventricular remodeling, and enhanced ventricular performance. Cardiomyocyte resuscitation by preventing programmed cell death shows promise as an additive approach to minimizing necrosis for long-term prevention of heart failure.
- Heart failure