What is cardiac degeneration?

Cardiac degeneration refers to the progressive deterioration or decline in the structure and function of the heart muscle (myocardium). It is a broad term that encompasses various pathological changes affecting the heart, leading to impaired cardiac function and, ultimately, heart failure. Cardiac degeneration can result from a range of underlying causes, including cardiovascular diseases, genetic factors, aging, and environmental influences.


Some common forms of cardiac degeneration include:


  • Dilated Cardiomyopathy: Dilated cardiomyopathy is a condition characterized by enlargement and weakening of the heart chambers, particularly the left ventricle. This leads to reduced contractility and pumping function of the heart, resulting in heart failure. Dilated cardiomyopathy can be caused by genetic factors, viral infections, alcohol abuse, or other underlying conditions.


  • Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy: Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is characterized by abnormal thickening of the heart muscle, particularly the left ventricle. This can impair the relaxation and filling of the heart chambers, leading to symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, and arrhythmias. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is often inherited and can increase the risk of sudden cardiac death, especially in young individuals.


  • Restrictive Cardiomyopathy: Restrictive cardiomyopathy is characterized by stiffening and rigidity of the heart muscle, which impairs the ability of the heart chambers to fill properly during diastole (relaxation phase). This leads to reduced cardiac output and symptoms of heart failure, such as fatigue, fluid retention, and exercise intolerance. Restrictive cardiomyopathy can be caused by various underlying conditions, including amyloidosis, sarcoidosis, or fibrosis.


  • Ischemic Cardiomyopathy: Ischemic cardiomyopathy results from coronary artery disease and myocardial infarction (heart attack), which lead to inadequate blood supply and oxygen delivery to the heart muscle. Prolonged ischemia and infarction can cause irreversible damage to the heart tissue, resulting in impaired contractility and heart failure. Ischemic cardiomyopathy is a common cause of heart failure and is often associated with a history of coronary artery disease or prior heart attacks.


  • Arrhythmogenic Cardiomyopathy: Arrhythmogenic cardiomyopathy is a rare inherited disorder characterized by abnormal replacement of heart muscle with fatty or fibrous tissue. This can disrupt the normal electrical conduction of the heart and predispose individuals to life-threatening arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death.


  • Age-related Cardiac Degeneration: Aging is associated with structural and functional changes in the heart, including fibrosis, stiffness, and impaired contractility. These age-related changes can contribute to the development of heart failure and other cardiovascular diseases in older adults.


What is the relationship between cardiac degeneration and oxidative stress?

The relationship between cardiac degeneration and oxidative stress is intricate and bidirectional, as oxidative stress plays a significant role in the pathophysiology of cardiac degeneration, while cardiac degeneration itself can further exacerbate oxidative stress. Here’s how these processes are related:


  • Oxidative Stress in Cardiac Degeneration:
    • Oxidative stress is implicated in the development and progression of various forms of cardiac degeneration, including dilated cardiomyopathy, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, ischemic cardiomyopathy, and age-related cardiac changes.
    • In conditions such as ischemic cardiomyopathy, inadequate blood supply to the heart muscle leads to ischemia-reperfusion injury, which results in the generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and oxidative stress. This oxidative damage contributes to myocardial injury, fibrosis, and contractile dysfunction.
    • In hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, abnormal thickening of the heart muscle can impair oxygen delivery and promote the production of ROS, leading to oxidative stress and cellular damage.
    • Age-related cardiac degeneration is associated with increased oxidative stress due to factors such as mitochondrial dysfunction, impaired antioxidant defenses, and chronic inflammation. Oxidative damage accumulates over time, contributing to age-related changes in the heart, including fibrosis, stiffness, and impaired contractility.


  • Oxidative Stress as a Consequence of Cardiac Degeneration:
    • Cardiac degeneration can further exacerbate oxidative stress through various mechanisms. For example, impaired contractility and inefficient energy metabolism in failing hearts can lead to increased mitochondrial ROS production.
    • Chronic inflammation and fibrosis in the heart tissue, characteristic of many forms of cardiac degeneration, can promote oxidative stress by activating inflammatory cells and generating ROS.
    • Cardiac arrhythmias, common in certain forms of cardiac degeneration, can lead to electrical instability and ROS generation, further contributing to oxidative stress and tissue damage.


Oxidative stress in cardiac degeneration can lead to cellular damage, DNA mutations, and activation of signaling pathways involved in cell death and remodeling, ultimately exacerbating myocardial injury and dysfunction. The accumulation of oxidative damage over time can contribute to the progression of cardiac degeneration, worsening heart function and increasing the risk of adverse cardiovascular events such as heart failure, arrhythmias, and sudden cardiac death.