Differential Pathophysiological Mechanisms in Heart Failure With a Reduced or Preserved Ejection Fraction in Diabetes

State-of-the-art Review

Milton Packer, MD


JACC Heart Fail. 2021;9(7):535-549. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Diabetes promotes the development of both heart failure with a reduced ejection fraction and heart failure with a preserved ejection fraction through diverse mechanisms, which are likely mediated through hyperinsulinemia rather than hyperglycemia. Diabetes promotes nutrient surplus signaling (through Akt and mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1) and inhibits nutrient deprivation signaling (through sirtuin-1 and its downstream effectors); this suppresses autophagy and promotes endoplasmic reticulum and oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction, thereby undermining the health of diabetic cardiomyocytes. The hyperinsulinemia of diabetes may also activate sodium-hydrogen exchangers in cardiomyocytes (leading to injury and loss) and in the proximal renal tubules (leading to sodium retention). Diabetes may cause epicardial adipose tissue expansion, and the resulting secretion of proinflammatory adipocytokines onto the adjoining myocardium can lead to coronary microcirculatory dysfunction and myocardial inflammation and fibrosis. Interestingly, sodium-glucose cotransporter 2 (SGLT2) inhibitors—the only class of antidiabetic medication that reduces serious heart failure events—may act to mitigate each of these mechanisms. SGLT2 inhibitors up-regulate sirtuin-1 and its downstream effectors and autophagic flux, thus explaining the actions of these drugs to reduce oxidative stress, normalize mitochondrial structure and function, and mute proinflammatory pathways in the stressed myocardium. Inhibition of SGLT2 may also lead to a reduction in the activity of sodium-hydrogen exchangers in the kidney (leading to diuresis) and in the heart (attenuating the development of cardiac hypertrophy and systolic dysfunction). Finally, SGLT2 inhibitors reduce the mass and mute the adverse biology of epicardial adipose tissue (and reduce the secretion of leptin), thus explaining the capacity of these drugs to mitigate myocardial inflammation, microcirculatory dysfunction, and fibrosis, and improve ventricular filling dynamics. The pathophysiological mechanisms by which SGLT2 inhibitors may benefit heart failure likely differ depending on ejection fraction, but each represents interference with distinct pathways by which hyperinsulinemia may adversely affect cardiac structure and function.


Patients with diabetes are at increased risk of heart failure, but the relationship between the 2 diseases is complex. There are 2 types of diabetes (ie, type 1 and 2), and there are 2 main phenotypes of heart failure (ie, heart failure with a reduced ejection fraction [HFrEF] and heart failure with a preserved ejection fraction [HFpEF]). Any exploration of the pathophysiological mechanisms of heart failure in patients with diabetes must consider the subgroups within each disease state.