More than 10 years after its discovery, the function of cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) in the cardiovascular system remains largely an enigma. Many scholars have assumed that the allegedly detrimental effects of COX-2 in other systems (e.g. proinflammatory actions and tumorigenesis) signify a detrimental role of this protein in cardiovascular homeostasis as well. This view, however, is ill-founded. Recent studies have demonstrated that ischemic preconditioning (PC) upregulates the expression and activity of COX-2 in the heart, and that this increase in COX-2 activity mediates the protective effects of the late phase of PC against both myocardial stunning and myocardial infarction. An obligatory role of COX-2 has been observed in the setting of late PC induced not only by ischemia but also by δ-opioid agonists and physical exercise, supporting the view that the recruitment of this protein is a central mechanism whereby the heart protects itself from ischemia. The beneficial actions of COX-2 appear to be mediated by the synthesis of PGE2 and/or PGI2. Since inhibition of iNOS in preconditioned myocardium blocks COX-2 activity whereas inhibition of COX-2 does not affect iNOS activity, COX-2 appears to be downstream of iNOS in the protective pathway of late PC. The results of these studies challenge the widely accepted paradigm that views COX-2 activity as detrimental. The discovery that COX-2 plays an indispensable role in the anti-stunning and anti-infarct effects of late PC demonstrates that the recruitment of this protein is a fundamental mechanism whereby the heart adapts to stress, thereby revealing a novel, hitherto unappreciated cardioprotective function of COX-2. From a practical standpoint, the recognition that COX-2 is an obligatory co-mediator (together with iNOS) of the protection afforded by late PC has implications for the clinical use of COX-2 selective inhibitors as well as nonselective COX inhibitors. For example, the possibility that inhibition of COX-2 activity may augment myocardial cell death by obliterating the innate defensive response of the heart against ischemia/reperfusion injury needs to be considered and is the object of much current debate. Furthermore, the concept that the COX-2 byproducts, PGE2 and/or PGI2, play a necessary role in late PC provides a basis for novel therapeutic strategies designed to enhance the biosynthesis of these cytoprotective prostanoids in the ischemic myocardium. From a conceptual standpoint, the COX-2 hypothesis of late PC expands our understanding of the function of this enzyme in the cardiovascular system and impels a critical reassessment of current thinking regarding the biologic significance of COX-2.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine
- Physiology (medical)