Heart failure patients are routinely given drugs known as beta-blockers to boost cardiac performance and reduce the risk of death. These drugs were thought to work directly on the heart. Now however, researchers at the University College London (UCL) have found that these drugs also work via the brain.
The finding has researchers believing that future therapies to treat cardiovascular disease could be targeting the central nervous system.
Researchers at UCL led by Professor Mike Spyer, UCL Vice-Provost, used a mouse model of postmyocardial infarction-induced heart failure as a part of their study, and discovered that the beta-adrenoceptor blocker metoprolol acts directly in the brain to slow the progression of heart failure.
It was found that this action seemed to be localised to a group of brain cells that UCL researchers identified previously to be pivotal in the control of blood pressure and heart rate.
"Our study shows the importance of the brain in regulating the cardiovascular system. This is often ignored by cardiologists who concentrate on the dynamics of cardiac contraction and the receptors on the heart that influence this, rather than how the nervous innervation of the heart is regulated," said Spyer.
Millions of heart failure patients worldwide are routinely treated with beta-blockers, which were found in the 1970s for the treatment of arterial hypertension and are one of the most important advances in heart failure therapy.
But it's still not clear how long-term treatment with beta-blockers slows the development of heart failure, improves heart function and exercise capacity and reduces the risk of sudden cardiac death.
Dr Alexander Gourine, UCL Department of Neuroscience, Physiology and Pharmacology, said: "Many people have assumed that beta-blockers have a direct salutary influence on the heart, but our findings challenge this view, suggesting that beta-blockers may act directly in the brain and this action could underlie their beneficial effect on the failing heart. This study suggests that novel ways might be found to treat cardiovascular disease aimed at sites within the brain."
The study is published in the journal Circulation Research.