Chronic heart failure is a common clinical condition characterized by persistent excessive sympathetic nervous system activation. The derangement of the sympathetic activity has relevant implications for disease progression and patient survival. Aiming to positively impact patient outcome, autonomic nervous system modulatory therapies have been developed and tested in animal and clinical studies. As a general gross assumption, direct vagal stimulation and baroreflex activation are considered equivalent. This assumption does not take into account the fact that direct cervical vagal nerve stimulation involves activation of both afferent and efferent fibers innervating not only the heart, but the entire visceral system, leading to undesired responses to and from this compartment. The different action of baroreflex activation is based on generating a centrally mediated reduction of sympathetic outflow and increasing parasympathetic activity to the heart via a physiological reflex pathway. Thus, baroreflex activation rebalances the unbalanced autonomic nervous system via a specific path. Independent and complementary investigations have shown that sympathetic nerve activity can be rebalanced via control of the arterial baroreflex in heart failure patients.
Results from recent pioneering research studies support the hypothesis that baroreflex activation can add significant therapeutic benefit on top of guideline-directed medical therapy in patients with advanced heart failure. In the present review, baroreflex activation therapy results are discussed, focusing on critical aspects like patient selection rationale to support clinician orientation in opting for baroreflex activation therapy when, on top of current guideline-directed medical treatment, other therapies are to be considered.