The renin-angiotensin system and experimental heart failure

K C Wollert, H Drexler
Cardiovascular Research 1999, 43 (4): 838-49
Experimental studies suggest that the renin-angiotensin system (RAS) and its primary effector peptide, angiotensin II (Ang II), are involved in the pathophysiology of cardiac hypertrophy and failure. All the components required for Ang II production are present in the heart, and cardiac Ang II formation appears to be regulated independent from the circulating RAS. In animal models and in patients with heart failure, the cardiac RAS is activated and, presumably, local Ang II formation is enhanced. Several cardiac cell types express Ang II type 1 (AT1) and/or type 2 (AT2)-receptors and represent potential targets for Ang II-mediated effects. In neonatal cardiac myocytes, Ang II induces a hypertrophic response via the AT1-receptor. Likewise, activation of the AT1-receptor triggers hypertrophy in terminally differentiated cardiac myocytes and in perfused heart preparations. In the neonatal system, Ang II appears to be a major autocrine/paracrine mediator of cardiac myocyte hypertrophy in response to passive mechanical stretch. By contrast, AT1-receptor activation apparently is not required to trigger load-induced hypertrophy in the adult cardiomyocyte. Recent studies suggest that the AT2-receptor opposes AT1-receptor-mediated growth signals in neonatal and in adult cardiac myocytes. Pharmacological studies have established that a blockade of the RAS at the level of the angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) or the AT1-receptor ameliorates the remodeling process of the heart and prolongs long-term survival in animal models of cardiac hypertrophy and failure. The therapeutic effects of ACE inhibitors and AT1-receptor antagonists clearly suggest an important role for the ACE-Ang II-AT1-receptor axis in the development of cardiac hypertrophy and failure. It must be kept in mind, however, that these drugs enhance AT2-receptor and B2-kinin receptor-dependent signaling pathways which may contribute significantly to the beneficial effects observed in vivo. Molecular and physiological analyses of transgenic mice with a cardiac-specific overexpression of the AT1 or AT2-receptor confirm that AT1 and AT2-receptor-dependent signaling cascades potently modulate cardiac myocyte function and growth. However, studies in AT1-receptor knockout mice demonstrate that cardiac hypertrophy in response to hemodynamic overload can occur independent from the AT1-receptor. In this paper, we review recent experimental evidence suggesting a critical role for the RAS in cardiac hypertrophy and failure with special emphasis on the putative role of Ang II and Ang II-receptor signaling in cardiac myocytes.

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