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Am J Cardiol. 1992 Sep 24;70(8):30B-42B.

Mechanisms of action of the organic nitrates in the treatment of myocardial ischemia.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, School of Medicine, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque 87131-5271.


Nitroglycerin and the long-acting nitrates are widely used in all of the anginal syndromes and have proven effectiveness in relieving or preventing myocardial ischemia. Recent developments into nitrate mechanisms of action provide new insights as to the many anti-ischemic effects of these agents. Important concepts relating to coronary arterial endothelial function are germane to nitrate therapy. Endothelial-derived relaxing factor (EDRF) is presently believed to be nitric oxide (NO), which exerts vasodilatory and/or antiplatelet actions by increasing intracellular cyclic guanosine monophosphate as a result of activation of the enzyme guanylate cyclase. In the setting of coronary atherosclerosis, or even hyperlipidemia without histologic vascular disease, endothelial dysfunction may be present, promoting a vasoconstrictor/proplatelet aggregatory milieu. Nitroglycerin and the organic nitrates are NO donors; NO is the final product of nitrate metabolism, and in the vascular smooth muscle NO induces relaxation, resulting in vasodilation of arteries and veins. In the presence of inadequate EDRF production and/or release, it appears that nitroglycerin may partially replenish EDRF-like activity. Nitrates have long been known to have major peripheral circulatory actions resulting in a marked decrease in cardiac work. Venodilation and arterial relaxation result in a decrease in intracardiac chamber size and pressures, with a resultant decrease in myocardial oxygen consumption. In addition, a variety of direct coronary circulatory actions of the nitrates have been documented. These include not only epicardial coronary artery dilation, but the prevention of coronary vasoconstriction, enhanced collateral flow, and coronary stenosis enlargement. Recent work suggests that the nitrates may also act by preventing distal coronary artery or collateral vasoconstriction, which can reduce blood flow downstream from a total coronary obstruction. Thus, there are many anti-ischemic mechanisms of action by which nitroglycerin and the organic nitrates may be beneficial in both acute and chronic ischemic heart disease syndromes. The unique salutory effects of the nitrates in subjects with left ventricular dysfunction or congestive heart failure make these drugs particularly attractive for patients with abnormal systolic function and intermittent myocardial ischemia. Finally, the emergent role of intravenous nitroglycerin in acute myocardial infarction offers new prospects that nitrate therapy may prove to be beneficial in acute myocardial infarction as well as postmyocardial infarction for the reduction of left ventricular remodeling.

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