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Practical implications of current natriuretic peptide research.


Since the original discovery of atrial natriuretic peptide (ANP) nearly 20 years ago and the subsequent realisation of the existence of a family of natriuretic peptides, there has been considerable progress in the elucidation of the physiological and pathophysiological significance of these peptides. This review has examined two potentially important practical aspects arising from natriuretic peptide research - the significance of measurement of plasma levels of ANP and of brain natriuretic peptide BNP for cardiovascular disease and the therapeutic potential of targeting the natriuretic peptide system. Several situations where the measurement of plasma ANP and BNP may be of benefit in the overall assessment and prognosis of cardiac disease have been discussed. The measurement of plasma levels of these peptides appears to have limited value as a specific diagnostic tool and is unlikely to replace well-established procedures to assess cardiac function. Nevertheless, given the strong negative predictive value, the value of the measurement of plasma natriuretic peptides particularly BNPs, in people with suspected heart disease, rests on the evidence that a normal value indicates a low risk of cardiac impairment. Moreover, a consistently elevated plasma level of BNP after myocardial infarction is associated with a distinctly poor prognosis. In turn, this may help to select those with high plasma levels for subsequent detailed investigation of cardiac dysfunction. This may be an important option, especially where the facilities for the more invasive cardiological procedures are not available. Intriguingly, recent research also suggests the possibility that plasma levels of natriuretic peptides may have an important role in guiding more effective therapy for heart failure. The potent cardiovascular and renal effects of ANP and BNP provide an important therapeutic potential for hypertension and for conditions associated with volume overload. A number of approaches which have been used to enhance endogenous activity of these peptides have been highlighted. The use of the native peptides ANP and BNP may well be valuable in some circumstances, such as in critically ill individuals with congestive heart failure or renal failure. However, the limitations of the use of peptides, especially for long-term treatment, are obvious. In view of this, considerable effort has been devoted to the development of orally active agents to enhance endogenous natriuretic peptides by inhibition of breakdown by neutral endopeptidase. This research has led to the development of vasopeptidase inhibitors - dual inhibitors of both endopeptidase and angiotensin-converting enzyme - to enhance endogenous natriuretic peptide function on a background of reduced angiotensin II activity. The broad spectrum of action and the potentially important target-organ protection of these inhibitors offer potential benefits which may well go beyond existing treatment of hypertension and of conditions associated with overt volume overload.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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