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“Supranormal” Cardiac Function in Athletes Related to Better Arterial and Endothelial Function


  • This study was supported by grant from Ministry of Education and Research, Romania (Research Grant 13/2005).

Address for correspondence and reprint requests: Dragos Vinereanu, M.D., Ph.D., F.E.S.C., University and Emergency Hospital, Department of Cardiology, Splaiul Independentei 169 Street, Bucharest, Romania. Fax: + 40-21-318-05-76; E-mail:


Objective: Athlete's heart is associated with left ventricular (LV) hypertrophy (LVH), and “supranormal” cardiac function, suggesting that this is a physiological process. Hypertrophy alone cannot explain increase in cardiac function, therefore, other mechanisms, such as better ventriculo-arterial coupling might be involved. Methods: We studied 60 male (21 ± 3 years) subjects: 27 endurance athletes, and a control group of 33 age-matched sedentary subjects. We assessed global systolic and diastolic LV function, short- and long-axis myocardial velocities, arterial structure and function and ventriculo-arterial coupling, endothelial function by flow-mediated dilatation, and amino-terminal pro-brain natriuretic peptide (NT-proBNP) and biological markers of myocardial fibrosis and of oxidative stress. Results: Athletes had “supranormal” LV longitudinal function (12.4 ± 1.0 vs 10.1 ± 1.4 cm/s for longitudinal systolic velocity, and 17.4 ± 2.6 vs 15.1 ± 2.4 cm/s for longitudinal early diastolic velocity, both P < 0.01), whereas ejection fraction and short-axis function were similar to controls. Meanwhile, they had better endothelial function (16.7 ± 7.0 vs 13.3 ± 5.3%, P < 0.05) and lower arterial stiffness (pulse wave velocity 7.1 ± 0.6 vs 8.8 ± 1.1 m/s, P = 0.0001), related to lower oxidative stress (0.259 ± 0.71 vs 0.428 ± 0.88 nmol/mL, P = 0.0001), with improved ventriculo-arterial coupling (37.1 ± 21.5 vs 15.5 ± 13.4 mmHg.m/s3× 103, P = 0.0001). NT-proBNP and markers of myocardial fibrosis were not different from controls. LV longitudinal function was directly related to ventriculo-arterial coupling, and inversely related to arterial stiffness and to oxidative stress. Conclusions: “Supranormal” cardiac function in athletes is due to better endothelial and arterial function, related to lower oxidative stress, with optimized ventriculo-arterial coupling; athlete's heart is purely a physiological phenomenon, associated with “supranormal” cardiac function, and there are no markers of myocardial fibrosis. (Echocardiography 2010;27:659-667)