Skeletal muscle disorders in heart failure


Professor Ole M. Sejersted Institute for Experimental Medical Research, Ullevaal Hospital, N-0407 Oslo, Norway.


Heart failure is associated with reduction of exercise capacity that cannot be solely ascribed to reduced maximal oxygen uptake (O2max). Therefore, research has focused on changes in skeletal muscle morphology, metabolism and function. Factors that can cause such changes in skeletal muscle comprise inactivity, malnutrition, constant or repeated episodes of inadequate oxygen delivery and prolonged exposure to altered neurohumoural stimuli. Most of these factors are not specific for the heart failure condition. On the other hand, heart failure is more than one clinical condition. Congestive heart failure (CHF) develops gradually as a result of deteriorating contractility of the viable myocardium, myocardial failure. Is it possible that development of this contractile deficit in the myocardium is paralleled by a corresponding contractile deficit of the skeletal muscles? This question cannot be answered today. Both patient studies and experimental studies support that there is a switch to a faster muscle phenotype and energy metabolism balance is more anaerobic. The muscle atrophy seen in many patients is not so evident in experimental studies. Few investigators have studied contractile function. Both fast twitch and slow twitch muscles seem to become slower, not faster as might be expected, and this is possibly linked to slower intracellular Ca2+ cycling. The neurohumoural stimuli that can cause this change are not known, but recently it has been reported that several cytokines are increased in CHF patients. Thus, the changes seen in skeletal muscles during CHF are partly secondary to inactivity, but the possibility remains that the contractility is altered because of intracellular changes of Ca2+ metabolism that are also seen in the myocardium.