First discovered in 1966 as an inflammatory cytokine, MIF (macrophage migration inhibitory factor) has been extensively studied for its pivotal role in a variety of inflammatory diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis and atherosclerosis. Although initial studies over a decade ago reported increases in circulating MIF levels following acute MI (myocardial infarction), the dynamic changes in MIF and its pathophysiological significance following MI have been unknown until recently. In the present review, we summarize recent experimental and clinical studies examining the diverse functions of MIF across the spectrum of acute MI from brief ischaemia to post-infarct healing. Following an acute ischaemic insult, MIF is rapidly released from jeopardized cardiomyocytes, followed by a persistent MIF production and release from activated immune cells, resulting in a sustained increase in circulating levels of MIF. Recent studies have documented two distinct actions of MIF following acute MI. In the supra-acute phase of ischaemia, MIF mediates cardioprotection via several distinct mechanisms, including metabolic activation, apoptosis suppression and antioxidative stress. In prolonged myocardial ischaemia, however, MIF promotes inflammatory responses with largely detrimental effects on cardiac function and remodelling. The pro-inflammatory properties of MIF are complex and involve MIF derived from cardiac and immune cells contributing sequentially to the innate immune response evoked by MI. Emerging evidence on the role of MIF in myocardial ischaemia and infarction highlights a significant potential for the clinical use of MIF agonists or antagonists and as a unique cardiac biomarker.

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