Coronary microvascular adaptations distal to epicardial artery stenosis

Daphne Merkus, Judy Muller-Delp, Cristine L. Heaps*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Until recently, epicardial coronary stenosis has been considered the primary outcome of coronary heart disease, and clinical interventions have been dedicated primarily to the identification and removal of flow-limiting stenoses. However, a growing body of literature indicates that both epicardial stenosis and microvascular dysfunction contribute to damaging myocardial ischemia. In this review, we discuss the coexistence of macro- and microvascular disease, and how the structure and function of the distal microcirculation is impacted by the hemodynamic consequences of an epicardial, flow-limiting stenosis. Mechanisms of endothelial dysfunction as well as alterations of smooth muscle function in the coronary microcirculation distal to stenosis are discussed. Risk factors including diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and aging exacerbate microvascular dysfunction in the myocardium distal to a stenosis, and our current understanding of the role of these factors in limiting collateralization and angiogenesis of the ischemic myocardium is presented. Importantly, exercise training has been shown to promote collateral growth and improve microvascular function distal to stenosis; thus, the current literature reporting the mechanisms that underlie the beneficial effects of exercise training in the microcirculation distal to epicardial stenosis is reviewed. We also discuss recent studies of therapeutic interventions designed to improve microvascular function and stimulate angiogenesis in clinically relevant animal models of epicardial stenosis and microvascular disease. Finally, microvascular adaptation to removal of epicardial stenosis is considered.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)H2351-H2370
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Heart and Circulatory Physiology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was funded by National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Grant HL139903 (to C. L. Heaps), German Center for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK) Grant 81Z0600207 (to D. Merkus), and Dutch Cardiovascular Alliance (DCVA-Reconnext) (to D. Merkus).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 the American Physiological Society.


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