Cardiac natriuretic peptides: A physiological lineage of cardioprotective hormones?

A. P. Farrell, K. R. Olson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

55 Scopus citations


Vertebrate hearts from fish to mammals secrete peptide hormones with profound natriuretic, diuretic, and vasodilatory activity; however, the specific role of these cardiac natriuretic peptides (NPs) in homeostasis is unclear, NPs have been suggested to be involved in salt excretion in saltwater teleosts, whereas they are proposed to be more important in volume regulation in mammals. In this review, we consider an alternative (or perhaps complementary) function of NPs to protect the heart. This hypothesis is based on a number of observations. First, evidence for NPs, or NP-like activity has been found in all vertebrate hearts thus far examined, from osmoconforming saltwater hagfish to euryhaline freshwater and saltwater teleosts to terrestrial mammals. Thus the presence of cardiac NPs appears to be independent of environmental conditions that may variously affect salt and water balance. Second, cardiac stretch is a universal, and one of the most powerful, NP secretagogues. Furthermore, stretch-induced NP release in euryhaline teleosts appears relatively independent of ambient salinity. Third, excessive cardiac stretch that increases end-diastolic volume (EDV) can compromise the mechanical ability of the heart by decreasing actin-myosin interaction (length-tension) or through Laplace effects whereby as EDV increases, the wall tension necessary to maintain a constant pressure must also increase. Excessive cardiac stretch can be produced by factors that decrease cardiac emptying (i.e., increased arterial pressure), or by factors that increase cardiac filling (i.e., increased blood volume, increased venous tone, or decreased venous compliance). Fourth, the major physiological actions of cardiac NPs enhance cardiac emptying and decrease cardiac filling. In fish, NPs promote cardiac emptying by decreasing gill vascular resistance, thereby lowering ventral aortic pressure. In mammals a similar effect is achieved through pulmonary vasodilation. NPs also decrease cardiac filling by decreasing blood volume and increasing venous compliance, the latter producing a rapid fall in central venous pressure. Fifth, the presence of NP clearance receptors in the gill and lung (between the heart and systemic circulation) suggest that these tissues may be exposed to considerably higher NP titers than are systemic tissues. Thus, a decrease in outflow resistance immediately downstream from the heart may be the first response to increased cardiac distension. Because the physiology of cardiac NPs is basically the same in fish and mammals, we propose that the cardioprotective effects of NPs have been well preserved throughout the course of vertebrate evolution. It is also likely that the cardioprotective role of NPs was one of the most primordial homeostatic activities of these peptides in the earliest vertebrates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalPhysiological and Biochemical Zoology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 28 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Biochemistry
  • Animal Science and Zoology

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