The physiological response to a chronically failing heart is the implementation of compensatory mechanisms intended to support blood pressure. These mechanisms, which are not fully understood, increase peripheral vascular tone, thus increasing the strain on the weakened myocardium. This study investigated the structure and function of small arteries from heart failure patients and controls without heart failure in an attempt to identify abnormalities associated with heart failure which may be related to these mechanisms. Small arteries were dissected from gluteal biopsies and studied using wire myography. Arterial morphological parameters were measured and concentration–response curves constructed for a number of vasoconstrictor and vasodilator agonists. Plasma concentrations of neuroendocrine hormones were also measured. There were no morphological differences between small arteries from control subjects and those from patients with chronic heart failure. In heart failure patients, vasoconstrictor responses to endothelin-1 were significantly reduced, although plasma endothelin-1 levels were increased. Arteries from heart failure patients also showed evidence of an impaired neuronal uptake mechanism, since blockade by cocaine had no effect on noradrenaline-induced vasoconstriction in these vessels. These results suggest that small-artery structure is not altered in chronic heart failure and so cannot account for the heightened vascular resistance in this syndrome. However, abnormal neuronal uptake and impaired vasoconstriction in response to endothelin-1 may be associated with the complex compensatory phenomenon involved in heart failure.

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