Left ventricular assist devices (LVAD) are currently used to either “bridge” patients with terminal congestive heart failure (CHF) until cardiac transplantation is possible or optionally for patients with contraindications for transplantation (“destination therapy”). Mechanical support is associated with a marked decrease of cardiac dilation and hypertrophy as well as numerous cellular and molecular changes (“reverse cardiac remodeling”), which can be accompanied by improved cardiac function (“bridge to recovery”) in a relatively small subset of patients with heart transplantation no longer necessary even after removal of the device (“weaning”). In the recent past, novel pharmacological strategies have been developed and are combined with mechanical support, which has increased the percentage of patients with improved clinical status and cardiac performance. Gene expression profiles have demonstrated that individuals who recover after LVAD show different gene expression compared to individuals who do not respond to unloading. This methodology holds promise for the future to develop read out frames to identify individuals who can recover after support. Aside from describing the morphological changes associated with “reverse cardiac remodeling”, this review will focus on signal transduction, transcriptional regulation, apoptosis, cell stress proteins, matrix remodeling, inflammatory mediators and aspects of neurohormonal activation in the failing human heart before and after ventricular unloading.
Keywords: Congestive heart failure (CHF), ventricular unloading, left ventricular assist device (LVAD), reverse cardiac remodeling, morphology, weaning
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