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Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 1987 Oct;65(10):2007-12.

On the shoulders of giants: the discovery of atrial natriuretic factor.

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  • 1University of Ottawa Heart Institute, Ottawa Civic Hospital, Ont., Canada.


Investigations culminating at the beginning of this century clearly established that the cardiac muscle cell (cardiocytes) is differentiated for excitation, conduction, and contraction. All of the physiology and pathophysiology of the heart was developed subsequently based on this concept. However, morphological investigations in the mid 1950s suggested a secretory function for mammalian atrial cardiocytes. These cells contain storage granules, the specific atrial granules, which resemble granules found in polypeptide hormone-producing cells. The development of techniques for the study of these granules using a combined biochemical-morphological approach during the 1970s defined their general chemical nature and their behaviour under different experimental conditions. Because the number of atrial granules change dramatically following upsets of water and electrolyte balance, atrial muscle extracts were tested for effects on kidney function. In 1981, it was reported that atrial extracts contain a natriuretic factor (ANF) capable of inducing massive diuresis, increases in hematocrit, and lowering of blood pressure. It was demonstrated soon thereafter that ANF is stored within specific atrial granules. More recent work has defined ANF as a polypeptide hormone that appears to modulate or antagonize the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system. Current work attempts to define the physiological and pathophysiological role for ANF as well as possible therapeutic uses.

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