Background: The intensive physical activity is often associated with cardiac changes. Objectives: (i) To evaluate the IGF-I system and myocardial structure and function by standard Doppler echocardiography and Tissue Doppler in athletes and sedentary controls; and (ii) to determine any relationship between IGF-I system and echocardiographic parameters. Methods: Nineteen male top-level rowers and 19 age-matched healthy sedentary male controls underwent blood determination of fasting serum IGF-I, IGFBP-3 and acid-labile subunit levels and standard Doppler echocardiography combined with pulsed Tissue Doppler of posterior septal wall, left ventricular (LV) lateral mitral annulus and right ventricular (RV) tricuspid annulus. Myocardial presystolic (PS m), systolic (Sm), the ratio of early diastolic (E m) to atrial (Am) velocities as well as myocardial time intervals were calculated. Results: Rowers had higher serum IGF-I levels (P = 0.04), higher biventricular cavity dimensions and wall thicknesses compared to controls. They also had better LV and RV myocardial function than controls. In the rowers, IGF-I was associated with LV ejection fraction (r = 0.50, P = 0.03), RV PSm velocity (r = 0.55, P = 0.01) and with RV myocardial precontraction time (r = -0.57, P = 0.01). These associations remained significant after adjusting for age and heart rate. Conclusions: Top-level athletes showed higher IGF-I levels and a better myocardial performance than controls, particularly for the RV systolic activity. The independent correlations between IGF-I and systolic parameters of the left (ejection fraction) and right (PSm velocity and precontraction time) ventricles may possibly indicate a role of IGF-I system in the modulation of myocardial inotropism in athletes. Further studies are needed to confirm this hypothesis.
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