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Physiol Rev. 1998 Oct;78(4):1055-85.

Hibernating myocardium.

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  • 1Department of Pathophysiology, Centre of Internal Medicine, University of Essen, School of Medicine, Germany.


Decreased myocardial contraction occurs as a consequence of a reduction in blood flow. The concept of hibernation implies a downregulation of contractile function as an adaptation to a reduction in myocardial blood flow that serves to maintain myocardial integrity and viability during persistent ischemia. Unequivocal evidence for this concept exists in scenarios of myocardial ischemia that lasts for several hours, and sustained perfusion-contraction matching, recovery of energy and substrate metabolism, the potential for recruitment of inotropic reserve at the expense of metabolic recovery, and lack of necrosis are established criteria of short-term hibernation. The mechanisms of short-term hibernation, apart from reduced calcium responsiveness, are not clear at present. Experimental studies with chronic coronary stenosis lasting more than several hours have failed to continuously monitor flow and function. Nevertheless, a number of studies in chronic animal models and patients have demonstrated regional myocardial dysfunction at reduced resting blood flow that recovered upon reperfusion, consistent with chronic hibernation. Further studies are required to distinguish chronic hibernation from cumulative stunning. With a better understanding of the mechanisms underlying short-term hibernation, it is hoped that these adaptive responses can be recruited and reinforced to minimize the consequences of acute myocardial ischemia and delay impending infarction. Patients with chronic hibernation must be identified and undergo adequate reperfusion therapy.

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