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Ischemic preconditioning (IPC) refers to a phenomenon in which a tissue is rendered resistant to the deleterious effects of prolonged ischemia by previous exposure to brief periods of vascular occlusion. While the beneficial effects of IPC were first demonstrated in the myocardium, it is now clear that preconditioning protects postischemic skeletal muscle, brain, and small intestine and may also occur in humans. Although first described over a decade ago, the mechanisms underlying the powerful protective effects of IPC remain uncertain. However, a growing body of evidence indicates that the beneficial actions of IPC involve the activation of adenosine A1 receptors during the period of preconditioning ischemia in most organs and species. Adenosine A1 receptor stimulation is thought to promote the translocation and activation of specific isoforms of protein kinase C, which in turn phosphorylate as yet unidentified cellular effector molecules. In the heart, it has been suggested that ATP-sensitive potassium channels may represent important effectors of the preconditioning phenomenon. In contrast, ATP-sensitive potassium channel activation does not seem to contribute to the beneficial effects of IPC in the small bowel and seems to play only a limited role in skeletal muscle. In these peripheral tissues, the beneficial effects of IPC are related to inhibition of leukocyte adhesion and emigration. In the small intestine, IPC seems to prevent postischemic leukocyte adhesion by maintaining the bioavailability of nitric oxide (a potent endogenous anti-adhesive agent) and preventing the expression of P-selectin (an adhesive molecule expressed by endothelial cells that is thought to modulate leukocyte rolling). In skeletal muscle, these actions are mediated by an effect of IPC to augment the production of adenosine (another potent endogenous anti-adhesive agent) during reperfusion. Thus, although adenosine-induced protein kinase C activation seems to play an important role in initiating the beneficial actions of IPC in most tissues, the effector of the preconditioning phenomenon seems to differ among tissues. Understanding the mechanisms of IPC has led to the recognition that tissues may also be preconditioned by administration of agents that act via the same signaling cascade (e. g., adenosine, bradykinin, α1-adrenergic agonists). The purpose of this review is to summarize the evidence regarding the mechanisms of IPC in different organs.

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