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Aims: Recent guidelines recommend that patients with heart failure and left ventricular ejection fraction (LVEF) 40-49% should be managed similar to LVEF >/= 50%. We investigated the effect of beta-blockers according to LVEF in double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trials. Methods and results: Individual patient data meta-analysis of 11 trials, stratified by baseline LVEF and heart rhythm (Clinicaltrials.gov: NCT0083244; PROSPERO: CRD42014010012). Primary outcomes were all-cause mortality and cardiovascular death over 1.3 years median follow-up, with an intention-to-treat analysis. For 14 262 patients in sinus rhythm, median LVEF was 27% (interquartile range 21-33%), including 575 patients with LVEF 40-49% and 244 >/= 50%. Beta-blockers reduced all-cause and cardiovascular mortality compared to placebo in sinus rhythm, an effect that was consistent across LVEF strata, except for those in the small subgroup with LVEF >/= 50%. For LVEF 40-49%, death occurred in 21/292 [7.2%] randomized to beta-blockers compared to 35/283 [12.4%] with placebo; adjusted hazard ratio (HR) 0.59 [95% confidence interval (CI) 0.34-1.03]. Cardiovascular death occurred in 13/292 [4.5%] with beta-blockers and 26/283 [9.2%] with placebo; adjusted HR 0.48 (95% CI 0.24-0.97). Over a median of 1.0 years following randomization (n = 4601), LVEF increased with beta-blockers in all groups in sinus rhythm except LVEF >/=50%. For patients in atrial fibrillation at baseline (n = 3050), beta-blockers increased LVEF when < 50% at baseline, but did not improve prognosis. Conclusion: Beta-blockers improve LVEF and prognosis for patients with heart failure in sinus rhythm with a reduced LVEF. The data are most robust for LVEF < 40%, but similar benefit was observed in the subgroup of patients with LVEF 40-49%.