Enhanced atrial natriuretic factor (ANF) production by the heart is related to hemodynamic overload, cardiac growth, and hypertrophy. The heart is one of the most affected organs during Trypanosoma cruzi infection. We tested the hypothesis that myocarditis produced by parasite infection alters the natriuretic peptide system by investigating the behavior of plasma ANF during the acute and chronic stages of T. cruzi infection in rats. Sprague-Dawley rats were infected with T. cruzi clone Sylvio-X10/7. Cardiac morphology showed damage to myocardial cells and lymphocyte infiltration in the acute phase; and fibrosis and cell atrophy in the chronic period. Plasma ANF levels (radioimmunoassay) were significantly higher in acute (348 ± 40 vs. 195 ± 36 pg/ml, P < 0.05, n = 17) and chronic T. cruzi myocarditis (545 ± 81 vs. 229 ± 38 pg/ml, P < 0.001, n = 11) than in their respective controls (n = 10 and 14). Rats in the chronic phase also showed higher levels than rats in the acute phase (P < 0.01). The damage of myocardial cells produced by the parasite and the subsequent inflammatory response could be responsible for the elevation of plasma ANF during the acute period of T. cruzi infection. The highest plasma ANF levels found in chronically infected rats could be derived from the progressive failure of cardiac function.

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