, Volume 100, Issue 4, pp 295-310
Date: 30 Mar 2005

Postconditioning A new link in nature’s armor against myocardial ischemia–reperfusion injury

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Reperfusion injury is a complex process involving several cell types (endothelial cells, neutrophils, and cardiomyocytes), soluble proinflammatory mediators, oxidants, ionic and metabolic dyshomeostasis, and cellular and molecular signals. These participants in the pathobiology of reperfusion injury are not mutually exclusive. Some of these events take place during the very early moments of reperfusion, while others, seemingly triggered in part by the early events, are activated within a later timeframe. Postconditioning is a series of brief mechanical interruptions of reperfusion following a specific prescribed algorithm applied at the very onset of reperfusion. This algorithm lasts only from 1 to 3 minutes depending on species. Although associated with re–occlusion of the coronary artery or re–imposition of hypoxia in cell culture, the reference to ischemia has been dropped. Postconditioning has been observed to reduce infarct size and apoptosis as the “end games” in myocardial therapeutics; salvage of infarct size was similar to that achieved by the gold standard of protection, ischemic preconditioning. The cardioprotection was also associated with a reduction in: endothelial cell activation and dysfunction, tissue superoxide anion generation, neutrophil activation and accumulation in reperfused myocardium, microvascular injury, tissue edema, intracellular and mitochondrial calcium accumulation. Postconditioning sets in motion triggers and signals that are functionally related to reduced cell death. Adenosine has been implicated in the cardioprotection of postconditioning, as has e–NOS, nitric oxide and guanylyl cyclase, opening of KATP channels and closing of the mitochondrial permeability transition pore. Cardioprotection by postconditioning has also been associated with the activation of intracellular survival pathways such as ERK1/2 and PI3 kinase – Akt pathways. Other pathways have yet to be identified. Although many of the pathways involved in postconditioning have also been identified in ischemic preconditioning, some may not be involved in preconditioning (ERK1/2). The timing of action of these pathways and other mediators of protection in postconditioning differs from that of preconditioning. In contrast to preconditioning, which requires a foreknowledge of the ischemic event, postconditioning can be applied at the onset of reperfusion at the point of clinical service, i.e. angioplasty, cardiac surgery, transplantation.