Fibrosis occurs when the synthesis of extracellular matrix outpaces its degradation, and over time can negatively impact tissue and organ function. In the case of cardiac fibrosis, contraction and relaxation of the heart can be impaired to the point of precipitating heart failure, while at the same time fibrosis can result in arrhythmias due to altered electrical properties of the myocardium. The critical event in the evolution of cardiac fibrosis is the phenotype conversion of cardiac fibroblasts to their overly-active counterparts, myofibroblasts: cells demarked by their expression of novel markers such as periostin, by their gain of contractile activity, and by their pronounced and prolonged increase in the production of extracellular matrix components such as collagens. The phenotype change is dramatic, and can be triggered by many stimuli, including mechanical force, inflammatory cytokines, and growth factors. This review will explore fibroblast to myofibroblast transition mechanisms and will consider the therapeutic potential of targeting this process as a means to arrest or even reverse cardiac fibrosis.
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