Cardioprotection encompasses a variety of strategies protecting the heart against myocardial injury that occurs during and after inadequate blood supply to the heart during myocardial infarction. While restoring reperfusion is crucial for salvaging myocardium from further damage, paradoxically, it itself accounts for additional cell death—a phenomenon named ischemia/reperfusion injury. Therefore, therapeutic strategies are necessary to render the heart protected against myocardial infarction. Ischemic pre- and postconditioning, by short periods of sublethal cardiac ischemia and reperfusion, are still the strongest mechanisms to achieve cardioprotection. However, it is highly impractical and far too invasive for clinical use. Fortunately, it can be mimicked pharmacologically, for example, by volatile anesthetics, noble gases, opioids, propofol, dexmedetomidine, and phosphodiesterase inhibitors. These substances are all routinely used in the clinical setting and seem promising candidates for successful translation of cardioprotection from experimental protocols to clinical trials. This review presents the fundamental mechanisms of conditioning strategies and provides an overview of the most recent and relevant findings on different concepts achieving cardioprotection in the experimental setting, specifically emphasizing pharmacological approaches in the perioperative context.
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