Chronic heart failure (CHF) is a major health problem that carries a devastating prognosis. The prognosis worsens considerably once cardiac cachexia has been diagnosed. Neurohormonal, metabolic, hemodynamic and immunological alterations are involved in the initiation and progression of cardiac cachexia. Cachexia is characterized by a hypothalamic inappropriate response to the mechanisms controlling energy homeostasis. Levels of the anorexigenic hormone leptin are decreased whereas the orexigenic gherlin hormone levels are normal or elevated. Nevertheless, energy intake is not increased as expected due to a persistent activation of the proopiomelanocortin (POMC) system (anorexigenic) paralleled by a decreased activity of the neuropeptide Y (NPY, orexigenic) neurons. Cachexia is also characterized by an imbalance in anabolic (impairment in the growth hormone/insulin-like growth factor-I axis, insulin resistance) and catabolic (increased levels of catecholamines, increased cortisol/ dehydroepiandrosterone ratio and activation of proinflammatory cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor-alpha, interleuchin-6, interleuchin-1,) at the basis of the wasting process. This review discusses the complex role of the endocrine system in modulating energy balance, appetite and metabolism in patients with chronic heart failure. A joint multidisciplinary effort of the cardiologists, immunologists and endocrinologists might be useful to identify the precise mechanisms involved in the neuroendocrine alteration and to develop therapeutic strategies able to improve the prognosis of CHF patients.
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