Recent studies demonstrated that large amounts of the pro-hormone peptide of brain natriuretic peptide (proBNP) can be detected in plasma of healthy subjects and in particular of patients with heart failure. As a result, a great part of B-type natriuretic peptides measured in patients with cardio-vascular disease may be devoid of biological activity. These findings stimulated the set up of specific immunoassay methods for the measurement of the intact proBNP peptide. The aim of this review article is to discuss the methodological characteristics and the possible clinical relevance of specific immunoassay methods for the measurement of the proBNP peptide. From an analytical point of view, a fully automated immunoassay of proBNP has some theoretical advantages (e.g., a more stable molecule with higher molecular weight than the derived peptides) compared to the active hormone BNP. Recent studies supported the concept that the precursor proBNP might be actually considered a circulating prohormone, which can be cleaved by specific plasma proteases in BNP, the active hormone, and NT-proBNP, an inactive peptide. The peripheral processing of circulating proBNP could likely be submitted to regulatory rules, which might be impaired in patients with heart failure, opening new perspectives in the treatment of heart failure (e.g., by studying drugs inducing the cleavage of the prohormone into active BNP). Furthermore, as a future perspective, the specific assay in the same plasma sample of the intact precursor proBNP and of the biologically active peptide BNP, could allow a more accurate estimation of the production/secretion of B-type related peptides from cardiomyocytes and of the global cardiac endocrine function.
©2011 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin Boston