Heart Inflammation Research
As part of its broader commitment to research on heart and vascular diseases, the NHLBI leads and supports research on heart inflammation. Heart inflammation includes three main conditions that are caused by viral, bacteria, or fungal infections and affect different areas of the heart.
- Endocarditis is inflammation of the inner lining of the heart’s chambers and valves.
- Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart muscle.
- Pericarditis is inflammation of the tissue that forms a sac around the heart.
NHLBI researchers have helped show how viruses infect cells in the body, which can lead to heart inflammation. Our researchers have also led studies to develop new treatments for heart valve disease, which is a complication of endocarditis. We currently fund studies to better understand the causes, treatments, and complications of heart inflammation.
NHLBI research that really made a difference
- New discoveries in viral transmission: In 2015, NHLBI-funded researchers led by Dr. Nihal Altan-Bonnet of NHLBI’s Laboratory of Host–Pathogen Dynamics discovered a never-before-seen mode of viral transmission. Multiple viruses arrive together at a cell and infect the cell at the same time. This mode helps viruses infect, survive in, and reproduce in cells more efficiently than they could singly.
- COVID-19 and the heart: NHLBI-funded researchers have also shed light on how SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can cause heart complications such as myocarditis. They have shown that this virus can directly infect heart cells in the laboratory and can quickly reproduce inside these cells. The SARS-CoV-2 virus also causes problems with how the heart beats. Our ongoing research about COVID-19 and the heart continues to help researchers and doctors understand the short- and long-term effects of COVID-19 and develop new treatments for this disease.
Current research funded by the NHLBI
Our Division of Cardiovascular Sciences and its Adult and Pediatric Cardiac Research Program oversee much of the research on heart inflammation we fund, helping us understand the causes and treatments for pericarditis, myocarditis, and endocarditis.
Current research on understanding heart inflammation
The NHLBI supports research to understand infections of the heart and the processes that lead to heart inflammation.
- How proteins protect the heart from infection: The NHLBI supports research to understand how specific proteins help protect the heart from viral infections that can cause heart inflammation.
- Cancer treatments and heart inflammation: We fund research to determine how certain cancer treatments that target the immune system can cause myocarditis. This research includes assessing the long-term risk of myocarditis and the complications caused by myocarditis in people who have received these cancer treatments.
- Conditions that cause heart inflammation: NHLBI-funded researchers are exploring how certain cells of the immune system can cause inflammation and myocarditis in people who have a blood disorder called hypereosinophilic syndrome. We also support research to understand how a condition that can develop after streptococcal (strep) infection — called rheumatic heart disease — causes long-term inflammation in the heart valves and why the valves on the left side of the heart are more likely to develop this inflammation.
Find more NHLBI-funded studies on the causes of heart inflammation at NIH RePORTER.
Current research on diagnosing and monitoring heart inflammation
We support research to improve the technology used to image the heart and to diagnose and monitor heart inflammation.
- Cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to replace chest X-rays: NHLBI-funded researchers are developing new ways to use cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) instead of chest X-rays in some cases to help make frequent testing and procedures safer for children. Children who have problems with their heart, including myocarditis, often need frequent imaging tests and procedures that involve chest X-rays. Although the amount of radiation used in a single X-ray is very small, frequent tests can expose a child to a significant amount of radiation.
- Effective imaging tests after heart transplant: We fund research to develop highly effective imaging tests to monitor patients after a heart transplant, which may be used to treat life-threatening heart inflammation when no other treatment options are effective. These imaging tests can help doctors find early signs of complications.
Find more NHLBI-funded studies on diagnosing heart inflammation at NIH RePORTER.
Current research on treating heart inflammation and preventing complications
The NHLBI supports research to improve treatment for heart inflammation and to prevent serious long-term complications.
- Myocarditis and heart muscle damage: NHLBI-funded research on myocarditis uses mice and human cells to find out whether specific types of cells in the heart can help prevent scar tissue from forming in the heart in people who have myocarditis. Researchers hope to better understand how myocarditis can cause cardiomyopathy, which is a problem with heart muscle.
- Statins to treat inflammation: We support research into whether using medicines called statins to treat inflammation can help reduce the risk of myocarditis. Myocarditis can cause scar tissue to form in the heart, which can prevent the heart from working properly. This can cause heart failure. Researchers are also studying whether statins can prevent scar tissue from forming in the hearts of people living with HIV.
- Endocarditis risks and treatments: We fund research to find effective ways to reduce the risk of endocarditis and to treat this condition in people who have opioid use disorder.
Find more NHLBI-funded studies on treating heart inflammation at NIH RePORTER.
Heart inflammation research labs at the NHLBI
Related heart inflammation programs
The Cardiothoracic Surgical Trials Network (CTSN) is an international clinical research enterprise that studies heart valve disease, arrhythmias, heart failure, coronary heart disease, and the complications of surgery. The trials span all phases of development, from early translation to completion, and have more than 14,000 participants. They include six completed randomized clinical trials, three large observational studies, and many other smaller studies.
Explore more NHLBI research on heart inflammation
The sections above provide you with the highlights of NHLBI-supported research on heart inflammation. You can explore the full list of NHLBI-funded studies on the NIH RePORTER.