Physiological basis for contractile dysfunction in heart failure

Luciano Dalla Libera, Giorgio Vescovo, Maurizio Volterrani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The purpose of this review is to enlighten the mechanisms of skeletal muscle dysfunction in heart failure. The muscle hypothesis suggests that chronic heart failure (CHF) symptoms, dyspnoea and fatigue are due to skeletal muscle alterations. Hyperventilation due to altered ergoreflex seems to be the cause of shortness of breath. Qualitative and quantitative changes occurring in the skeletal muscle, such as muscle wastage and shift from slow to fast fibers type, are likely to be responsible for fatigue. Mechanisms leading to muscle wastage in chronic heart failure, include cytokine-triggered skeletal muscle apoptosis, but also ubiquitin/proteasome and non-ubiquitin-dependent pathways. The regulation of fibre type involves the growth hormone/insulin-like growth factor 1/calcineurin/transcriptional coactivator PGC1 cascade. The imbalance between protein synthesis and degradation plays an important role. Protein degradation can occur through ubiquitin-dependent and non-ubiquit-independent pathways. Systems controlling ubiquitin/ proteasome activation have been described. These are triggered by tumour necrosis factor and growth hormone/insulin-like growth factor 1. However, an important role is played by apoptosis. In humans, and experimental models of heart failure, programmed cell death has been found in skeletal muscle and interstitial cells. Apoptosis is triggered by tumour necrosis factor and in vitro experiments have shown that it can be induced by its second messenger sphingosine. Apoptosis correlates with the severity of the heart failure syndrome. It involves activation of caspases 3 and 9 and mitochondrial cytochrome c release. Sarcomeric protein oxidation and its consequent contractile impairment can form another cause of skeletal muscle dysfunction in CHF.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2572-2581
Number of pages10
JournalCurrent Pharmaceutical Design
Issue number25
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • Apoptosis
  • Atrophy
  • Cytokines
  • Heart failure
  • Oxidative stress
  • Skeletal muscle

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Drug Discovery
  • Pharmacology


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