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Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and myocarditis: Classification, clinical and autoimmune features

Alida L. P. Caforio, Stefania Bottaro, Sabino Iliceto
Cardiology, Dept of Cardiological, Thoracic and Vascular Sciences, University of Padua, Padua, Italy

[Applied Cardiopulmonary Pathophysiology 16: 82-95, 2012]


Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), a leading cause of heart failure and heart transplantation in younger adults, is characterized by dilatation and impaired contraction of the left or both ventricles; it may be idiopathic, familial/genetic (20-30%), viral, and/or immune. On endomyocardial biopsy there is chronic inflammation in 30-40% of cases. Mutations in genes encoding myo­cyte structural proteins, cardiotoxic noxae and infectious agents are known causes; due to high aetiologic and genetic heterogeneity, the gene defects identified so far account for a tiny proportion of the familial cases. In at least two thirds of patients, DCM remains idiopathic. Myo­carditis may be idiopathic, infectious or autoimmune and may heal or lead to DCM. Circulating heart-reactive autoantibodies are found in myocarditis/DCM patients and symptom-free relatives at higher frequency than in normal or noninflammatory heart disease control groups. These autoantibodies are directed against multiple antigens, some of which are expressed only in the heart (organ-specific); some autoantibodies have functional effects on cardiac myocytes in vitro as well as in animal models. Depletion of nonantigen-specific antibodies by extracorporeal immunoadsorption is associated with improved ventricular function and reduced cardiac symptoms in some DCM patients, suggesting that autoantibodies may also have a functional role in humans. Immunosuppression seems beneficial in patients who are virus-negative and cardiac autoantibody positive. Prospective family studies have shown that cardiac-specific autoantibodies are present in at least 60% of both familial and non familial pedigrees and predict DCM development among asymptomatic relatives, years before clinical and echocardiographic evidence of disease. Animal models have shown the autoimmune myocarditis/DCM can be induced by virus as well as reproduced by immunization with a well-characterized autoantigen, cardiac myosin. Thus, in a substantial proportion of patients, myocarditis and DCM represent different stages of an organ-specific autoimmune disease, that represents the final common pathogenetic pathway of infectious and noninfectious myocardial injuries in genetically predisposed individuals.

Key words: myocarditis, inflammatory cardiomyopathies, dilated cardiomyopathy, cardiac autoantibodies, autoimmunity

Correspondence address
Alida L.P. Caforio, M.D., Ph.D.
Division of Cardiology
Dept of Cardiological, Thoracic and
Vascular Sciences
Centro “V. Gallucci”
University of Padova-Policlinico
Via Giustiniani, 2
35128 Padova
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