Intercalated disks (ICDs) are highly organized cell-cell adhesion structures, which connect cardiomyocytes to one another. They are composed of three major complexes: desmosomes, fascia adherens, and gap junctions. Desmosomes and fascia adherens junction are necessary for mechanically coupling and reinforcing cardiomyocytes, whereas gap junctions are essential for rapid electrical transmission between cells. Because human genetics and mouse models have revealed that mutations and/or deficiencies in various ICD components can lead to cardiomyopathies and arrhythmias, considerable attention has focused on the biologic function of the ICD. This review will discuss recent scientific developments related to the ICD and focus on its role in regulating cardiac muscle structure, signaling, and disease.
Cardiomyocytes grow during heart maturation or disease-related cardiac remodeling. We present evidence that the intercalated disc (ID) is integral to both longitudinal and lateral growth: increases in width are accommodated by lateral extension of the plicate tread regions and increases in length by sarcomere insertion within the ID. At the margin between myofibril and the folded membrane of the ID lies a transitional junction through which the thin filaments from the last sarcomere run to the ID membrane and it has been suggested that this junction acts as a proto Z-disc for sarcomere addition. In support of this hypothesis, we have investigated the ultrastructure of the ID in mouse hearts from control and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) models, the MLP-null and a cardiac-specific β-catenin mutant, cΔex3, as well as in human left ventricle from normal and DCM samples. We find that the ID amplitude can vary tenfold from 0.2 μm up to a maximum of ~2 μm allowing gradual expansion during heart growth. At the greatest amplitude, equivalent to a sarcomere length, A-bands and thick filaments are found within the ID membrane loops together with a Z-disc, which develops at the transitional junction position. Here, also, the tops of the membrane folds, which are rich in αII spectrin, become enlarged and associated with junctional sarcoplasmic reticulum. Systematically larger ID amplitudes are found in DCM samples. Other morphological differences between mouse DCM and normal hearts suggest that sarcomere inclusion is compromised in the diseased hearts.
Heart structure; Dilated cardiomyopathy; Adherens junction; Electron microscopy; Transitional junction
Intercalated disk (ID), which electromechanically couples cardiomyocytes into a functional syncitium, is closely related to normal morphology and function of engineered heart tissues (EHTs), but the development mode of ID in the three-dimensional (3D) EHTs is still unclear. In this study, we focused on the spatiotemporal development of the ID in the EHTs constructed by mixing neonatal rat cardiomyocytes with collagen/Matrigel, and investigated the effect of 3D microenvironment provided by collagen/Matrigel matrix on the formation of ID. By histological and immmunofluorescent staining, the spatiotemporal distribution of ID-related junctions was detected. Furthermore, the ultra-structures of the ID in different developmental stages were observed under transmission electron microscope. In addition, the expression of the related proteins was quantitatively analyzed. The results indicate that accompanying the re-organization of cardiomyocytes in collagen/Matrigel matrix, the proteins of adherens junctions, desmosomes and gap junctions redistributed from diffused distribution to intercellular regions to form an integrated ID. The adherens junction and desmosome which are related with mechanical connection appeared earlier than gap junction which is essential for electrochemical coupling. These findings suggest that the 3D microenvironment based on collagen/Matrigel matrix could support the ordered assembly of the ID in EHTs and have implications for comprehending the ordered and coordinated development of ID during the functional organization of EHTs.
Mutations in the plakoglobin (JUP) gene have been identified in arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC) patients. However, the mechanisms underlying plakoglobin dysfunction involved in the pathogenesis of ARVC remain poorly understood. Plakoglobin is a component of both desmosomes and adherens junctions located at the intercalated disc (ICD) of cardiomyocytes, where it functions to link cadherins to the cytoskeleton. In addition, plakoglobin functions as a signaling protein via its ability to modulate the Wnt/β-catenin signaling pathway. To investigate the role of plakoglobin in ARVC, we generated an inducible cardiorestricted knockout (CKO) of the plakoglobin gene in mice. Plakoglobin CKO mice exhibited progressive loss of cardiac myocytes, extensive inflammatory infiltration, fibrous tissue replacement, and cardiac dysfunction similar to those of ARVC patients. Desmosomal proteins from the ICD were decreased, consistent with altered desmosome ultrastructure in plakoglobin CKO hearts. Despite gap junction remodeling, plakoglobin CKO hearts were refractory to induced arrhythmias. Ablation of plakoglobin caused increase β-catenin stabilization associated with activated AKT and inhibition of glycogen synthase kinase 3β. Finally, β-catenin/TCF transcriptional activity may contribute to the cardiac hypertrophy response in plakoglobin CKO mice. This novel model of ARVC demonstrates for the first time how plakoglobin affects β-catenin activity in the heart and its implications for disease pathogenesis.
This report documents the formation of stable fetal cardiomyocyte grafts in the myocardium of dystrophic dogs. Preliminary experiments established that the dystrophin gene product could be used to follow the fate of engrafted cardiomyocytes in dystrophic mdx mice. Importantly, ultrastructural analyses revealed the presence of intercalated discs consisting of fascia adherens, desmosomes, and gap junctions at the donor-host cardiomyocyte border. To determine if isolated cardiomyocytes could form stable intracardiac grafts in a larger species, preparations of dissociated fetal canine cardiomyocytes were delivered into the hearts of adult CXMD (canine X-linked muscular dystrophy) dogs. CXMD dogs, like Duchenne muscular dystrophy patients and mdx mice, fail to express dystrophin in both cardiac and skeletal muscle. Engrafted fetal cardiomyocytes, identified by virtue of dystrophin immunoreactivity, were observed to be tightly juxtaposed with host cardiomyocytes as long as 10 wk after engraftment, the latest date analyzed. Confocal laser scanning microscopy revealed the presence of connexin43, a major constituent of the gap junction, at the donor-host cardiomyocyte border. The presence of intracardiac grafts was not associated with arrhythmogenesis in the CXMD model. These results indicate that fetal cardiomyocyte grafting can successfully augment cardiomyocyte number in larger animals.
Adherens junctions and desmosomes are intercellular adhesive junctions and essential for the morphogenesis, differentiation, and maintenance of tissues that are subjected to high mechanical stress, including heart and skin. The different junction complexes are organized at the termini of the cardiomyocyte called the intercalated disc. Disruption of adhesive integrity via mutations in genes encoding desmosomal proteins causes an inherited heart disease, arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC). Besides plakoglobin, which is shared by adherens junctions and desmosomes, other desmosomal components, desmoglein-2, desmocollin-2, plakophilin-2, and desmoplakin are also present in ultrastructurally defined fascia adherens junctions of heart muscle, but not other tissues. This mixed-type of junctional structure is termed hybrid adhering junction or area composita. Desmosomal plakophilin-2 directly interacts with adherens junction protein alphaT-catenin, providing a new molecular link between the cadherin-catenin complex and desmosome. The area composita only exists in the cardiac intercalated disc of mammalian species suggesting that it evolved to strengthen mechanical coupling in the heart of higher vertebrates. The cross-talk among different junctions and their implication in the pathogenesis of ARVC are discussed in this review.
In the past decade, an avalanche of findings and reports has correlated arrhythmogenic ventricular cardiomyopathies (ARVC) and Naxos and Carvajal diseases with certain mutations in protein constituents of the special junctions connecting the polar regions (intercalated disks) of mature mammalian cardiomyocytes. These molecules, apparently together with some specific cytoskeletal proteins, are components of (or interact with) composite junctions. Composite junctions contain the amalgamated fusion products of the molecules that, in other cell types and tissues, occur in distinct separate junctions, i.e. desmosomes and adherens junctions. As the pertinent literature is still in an expanding phase and is obviously becoming important for various groups of researchers in basic cell and molecular biology, developmental biology, histology, physiology, cardiology, pathology and genetics, the relevant references so far recognized have been collected and are presented here in the following order: desmocollin-2 (Dsc2, DSC2), desmoglein-2 (Dsg2, DSG2), desmoplakin (DP, DSP), plakoglobin (PG, JUP), plakophilin-2 (Pkp2, PKP2) and some non-desmosomal proteins such as transmembrane protein 43 (TMEM43), ryanodine receptor 2 (RYR2), desmin, lamins A and C, striatin, titin and transforming growth factor-β3 (TGFβ3), followed by a collection of animal models and of reviews, commentaries, collections and comparative studies.
Arrhythmogenic ventricular cardiomyopathy; Carvajal disease; Composite junction; Desmosomes; Intercalated disk; Naxos disease
The intercalated disk protein Xin was originally discovered in chicken striated muscle and implicated in cardiac morphogenesis. In the mouse, there are two homologous genes, mXinα and mXinβ. The human homolog of mXinα, Cmya1, maps to chromosomal region 3p21.2–21.3, near a dilated cardiomyopathy with conduction defect-2 locus. Here we report that mXinα-null mouse hearts are hypertrophied and exhibit fibrosis, indicative of cardiomyopathy. A significant upregulation of mXinβ likely provides partial compensation and accounts for the viability of the mXinα-null mice. Ultrastructural studies of mXinα-null mouse hearts reveal intercalated disk disruption and myofilament disarray. In mXinα-null mice, there is a significant decrease in the expression level of p120-catenin, β-catenin, N-cadherin, and desmoplakin, which could compromise the integrity of the intercalated disks and functionally weaken adhesion, leading to cardiac defects. Additionally, altered localization and decreased expression of connexin 43 are observed in the mXinα-null mouse heart, which, together with previously observed abnormal electrophysiological properties of mXinα-deficient mouse ventricular myocytes, could potentially lead to conduction defects. Indeed, ECG recordings on isolated, perfused hearts (Langendorff preparations) show a significantly prolonged QT interval in mXinα-deficient hearts. Thus mXinα functions in regulating the hypertrophic response and maintaining the structural integrity of the intercalated disk in normal mice, likely through its association with adherens junctional components and actin cytoskeleton. The mXinα-knockout mouse line provides a novel model of cardiac hypertrophy and cardiomyopathy with conduction defects.
Xin repeat proteins; N-cadherin; β-catenin; p120-catenin; connexin 43
Proteins linking intermediate filaments to other cytoskeletal components have important functions in maintaining tissue integrity and cell shape.
We found a set of monoclonal antibodies raised against specific human sarcomeric myosin heavy chain (MyHC) isoforms labels cells in distinct regions of the mammalian epidermis. The antigens co-localize with intermediate filament-containing structures. A slow MyHC-related antigen is punctate on the cell surface and co-localizes with desmoplakin at desmosomal junctions of all suprabasal epidermal layers from rat fœtal day 16 onwards, in the root sheath of the hair follicle and in intercalated disks of cardiomyocytes. A fast MyHC-related antigen occurs in cytoplasmic filaments in a subset of basal cells of skin epidermis and bulb, but not neck, of hair follicles. A fast IIA MyHC-related antigen labels filaments of a single layer of cells in hair bulb. This 230 000 Mr antigen co-purifies with keratin. No obvious candidate for any of the antigens appears in the literature.
We describe a set of molecules that co-localize with intermediate filament in specific cell subsets in epithelial tissues. These antigens presumably influence intermediate filament structure or function.
gut; heart; cardiomyocyte; intercalated disk; intermediate filaments; desmosomes.
Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a relatively common disease with a poor prognosis. Given that the only meaningful treatment for DCM is cardiac transplantation, investigators have explored the underlying molecular mechanisms of this disease in the hopes of identifying novel therapeutic targets. One such target is the serine-threonine phosphatase calcineurin, a Ca2+-activated signaling factor that is known to regulate the cardiac hypertrophic program, although its role in DCM is currently unknown.
In order to address this issue, we crossed muscle lim protein (MLP) knock-out mice - a murine model of DCM - with calcineurin Aβ ko mice, which lack the stress responsive isoform of calcineurin that critically regulates the cardiac hypertrophic response. Interestingly, the majority (73%) of the MLP/calcineurin Aβ double knock-out mice died within 20 days of birth with signs of cardiomyopathy. Ultrastructural examination revealed enhanced cardiomyocyte apoptosis and necrosis in the postnatal myocardium of these mice. The MLP/calcineurin Aβ double knock-out mice that survived until adulthood showed reduced left ventricular function, enhanced apoptotic and necrotic cardiomyocyte death and augmented myocardial fibrosis compared to various control groups. Antithetically, mild overexpression of activated calcineurin in the mouse heart improved function and adverse remodeling in MLP knock-out mice.
Collectively, these results reveal an important and previously unrecognized protective function of endogenous myocardial calcineurin in a mouse model of dilated cardiomyopathy.
Dilated Cardiomyopathy; Calcineurin; Muscle Lim Protein; Apoptosis; Necrosis
The muscle-specific protein NRAP is concentrated at cardiac intercalated disks, plays a role in myofibril assembly, and is upregulated early in mouse models of dilated cardiomyopathy. Using a tet-off system, we developed novel transgenic lines exhibiting cardiac-specific NRAP overexpression ~ 2.5 times greater than normal. At 40-50 weeks, NRAP overexpression resulted in dilation and decreased ejection fraction in the right ventricle, with little effect on the left ventricle. Expression of transcripts encoding brain natriuretic peptide and skeletal α-actin was increased by cardiac-specific NRAP overexpression, indicative of a cardiomyopathic response. NRAP overexpression did not alter the levels or organization of N-cadherin and connexin-43. The results show that chronic NRAP overexpression in the mouse leads to right ventricular cardiomyopathy by 10 months, but that the early NRAP upregulation previously observed in some mouse models of dilated cardiomyopathy is unlikely to account for the remodeling of intercalated disks and left ventricular dysfunction observed in those cases.
NRAP; cardiomyopathy; heart; intercalated disk; transgenic; tetracycline-controlled transactivator
Immunoreactive signal for the desmosomal protein plakoglobin (γ-catenin) is reduced at cardiac intercalated disks in patients with arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC), a highly arrhythmogenic condition caused by mutations in genes encoding desmosomal proteins. Previously, we observed a “false positive” case in which plakoglobin signal was reduced in a patient initially thought to have ARVC but who actually had cardiac sarcoidosis. Sarcoidosis can masquerade clinically as ARVC, but has not previously been associated with altered desmosomal proteins.
Methods and Results
We observed marked reduction in immunoreactive signal for plakoglobin at cardiac myocyte junctions in patients with sarcoidosis and giant cell myocarditis, both highly arrhythmogenic forms of myocarditis associated with granulomatous inflammation. In contrast, plakoglobin signal was not depressed in lymphocytic (non-granulomatous) myocarditis. To determine whether cytokines might promote dislocation of plakoglobin from desmosomes, we incubated cultures of neonatal rat ventricular myocytes with selected inflammatory mediators. Brief exposure to low concentrations of IL-17, TNFα and IL-6, cytokines implicated in granulomatous myocarditis, caused translocation of plakoglobin from cell-cell junctions to intracellular sites, whereas other potent cytokines implicated in non-granulomatous myocarditis had no effect, even at much high concentrations. We also observed myocardial expression of IL-17 and TNFα, and elevated serum levels of inflammatory mediators including IL-6R, IL-8, MCP1 and MIP1β in ARVC patients (all p<0.0001 compared with controls).
These results suggest novel disease mechanisms involving desmosomal proteins in granulomatous myocarditis and implicate cytokines, perhaps derived in part from the myocardium, in disruption of desmosomal proteins and arrhythmogenesis in ARVC.
plakoglobin; desmosome; sarcoidosis; giant cell myocarditis; cytokines
Muscle LIM protein (MLP, also known as cysteine rich protein 3 (CSRP3, CRP3)) is a muscle-specific-expressed LIM-only protein. It consists of 194 amino-acids and has been described initially as a factor involved in myogenesis (Arber et al. Cell 79:221–231, 1994). MLP soon became an important model for experimental cardiology when it was first demonstrated that MLP deficiency leads to myocardial hypertrophy followed by a dilated cardiomyopathy and heart failure phenotype (Arber et al. Cell 88:393–403, 1997). At this time, this was the first genetically altered animal model to develop this devastating disease. Interestingly, MLP was also found to be down-regulated in humans with heart failure (Zolk et al. Circulation 101:2674–2677, 2000) and MLP mutations are able to cause hypertrophic and dilated forms of cardiomyopathy in humans (Bos et al. Mol Genet Metab 88:78–85, 2006; Geier et al. Circulation 107:1390–1395, 2003; Hershberger et al. Clin Transl Sci 1:21–26, 2008; Knöll et al. Cell 111:943–955, 2002; Knöll et al. Circ Res 106:695–704, 2010; Mohapatra et al. Mol Genet Metab 80:207–215, 2003). Although considerable efforts have been undertaken to unravel the underlying molecular mechanisms—how MLP mutations, either in model organisms or in the human setting cause these diseases are still unclear. In contrast, only precise knowledge of the underlying molecular mechanisms will allow the development of novel and innovative therapeutic strategies to combat this otherwise lethal condition. The focus of this review will be on the function of MLP in cardiac mechanosensation and we shall point to possible future directions in MLP research.
Muscle stretch; Mechanoreceptor; Mechanosensitivity; Gene expression; Cardiac function; Cardiac muscle; Cardiac myocytes; Cardiac sarcomere; Cardiomyocyte; Cardiovascular control
The LIM domain defines a zinc-binding motif found in a growing number of eukaryotic proteins that regulate cell growth and differentiation during development. Members of the cysteine-rich protein (CRP) family of LIM proteins have been implicated in muscle differentiation in vertebrates. Here we report the identification and characterization of cDNA clones encoding two members of the CRP family in Drosophila, referred to as muscle LIM proteins (Mlp). Mlp60A encodes a protein with a single LIM domain linked to a glycine-rich region. Mlp84B encodes a protein with five tandem LIM-glycine modules. In the embryo, Mlp gene expression is spatially restricted to somatic, visceral, and pharyngeal muscles. Within the somatic musculature, Mlp84B transcripts are enriched at the terminal ends of muscle fibers, whereas Mlp60A transcripts are found throughout the muscle fibers. The distributions of the Mlp60A and Mlp84B proteins mirror their respective mRNA localizations, with Mlp84B enrichment occurring at sites of muscle attachment. Northern blot analysis revealed that Mlp gene expression is developmentally regulated, showing a biphasic pattern over the course of the Drosophila life cycle. Peaks of expression occur late in embryogenesis and during metamorphosis, when the musculature is differentiating. Drosophila Mlp60A and Mlp84B, like vertebrate members of the CRP family, have the ability to associate with the actin cytoskeleton when expressed in rat fibroblast cells. The temporal expression and spatial distribution of muscle LIM proteins in Drosophila are consistent with a role for Mlps in myogenesis, late in the differentiation pathway.
Skeletal myoblasts form grafts of mature muscle in injured hearts, and these grafts contract when exogenously stimulated. It is not known, however, whether cardiac muscle can form electromechanical junctions with skeletal muscle and induce its synchronous contraction. Here, we report that undifferentiated rat skeletal myoblasts expressed N-cadherin and connexin43, major adhesion and gap junction proteins of the intercalated disk, yet both proteins were markedly downregulated after differentiation into myo-tubes. Similarly, differentiated skeletal muscle grafts in injured hearts had no detectable N-cadherin or connexin43; hence, electromechanical coupling did not occur after in vivo grafting. In contrast, when neonatal or adult cardiomyocytes were cocultured with skeletal muscle, ∼10% of the skeletal myotubes contracted in synchrony with adjacent cardiomyocytes. Isoproterenol increased myotube contraction rates by 25% in coculture without affecting myotubes in monoculture, indicating the cardiomyocytes were the pacemakers. The gap junction inhibitor heptanol aborted myotube contractions but left spontaneous contractions of individual cardiomyocytes intact, suggesting myotubes were activated via gap junctions. Confocal microscopy revealed the expression of cadherin and connexin43 at junctions between myotubes and neonatal or adult cardiomyocytes in vitro. After microinjection, myotubes transferred dye to neonatal cardiomyocytes via gap junctions. Calcium imaging revealed synchronous calcium transients in cardiomyocytes and myotubes. Thus, cardiomyocytes can form electromechanical junctions with some skeletal myotubes in coculture and induce their synchronous contraction via gap junctions. Although the mechanism remains to be determined, if similar junctions could be induced in vivo, they might be sufficient to make skeletal muscle grafts beat synchronously with host myocardium.
skeletal myocytes; cardiomyocytes; electromechanical coupling; N-cadherin; connexin43
The muscle LIM protein (MLP) and cofilin 2 (CFL2) are important regulators of striated myocyte function. Mutations in the corresponding genes have been directly associated with severe human cardiac and skeletal myopathies, and aberrant expression patterns have often been observed in affected muscles. Herein, we have investigated whether MLP and CFL2 are involved in common molecular mechanisms, which would promote our understanding of disease pathogenesis. We have shown for the first time, using a range of biochemical and immunohistochemical methods, that MLP binds directly to CFL2 in human cardiac and skeletal muscles. The interaction involves the inter-LIM domain, amino acids 94 to 105, of MLP and the amino-terminal domain, amino acids 1 to 105, of CFL2, which includes part of the actin depolymerization domain. The MLP/CFL2 complex is stronger in moderately acidic (pH 6.8) environments and upon CFL2 phosphorylation, while it is independent of Ca2+ levels. This interaction has direct implications in actin cytoskeleton dynamics in regulating CFL2-dependent F-actin depolymerization, with maximal depolymerization enhancement at an MLP/CFL2 molecular ratio of 2:1. Deregulation of this interaction by intracellular pH variations, CFL2 phosphorylation, MLP or CFL2 gene mutations, or expression changes, as observed in a range of cardiac and skeletal myopathies, could impair F-actin depolymerization, leading to sarcomere dysfunction and disease.
We describe here the subcellular distributions of three junctional proteins in different adherens-type contacts. The proteins examined include vinculin, talin, and a recently described 135-kD protein (Volk, T., and B. Geiger, 1984, EMBO (Eur. Mol. Biol. Organ.) J., 10:2249- 2260). Immunofluorescent localization of the three proteins indicated that while vinculin was ubiquitously present in all adherens junctions, the other two showed selective and mutually exclusive association with either cell-substrate or cell-cell adhesions. Talin was abundant in focal contacts and in dense plaques of smooth muscle, but was essentially absent from intercellular junctions such as intercalated disks or adherens junctions of lens fibers. The 135-kD protein, on the other hand, was present in the latter two loci and was apparently absent from membrane-bound plaques of gizzard or from focal contacts. Radioimmunoassay of tissue extracts and immunolabeling of cultured chick lens cells indicated that the selective presence of talin and of the 135-kD protein in different cell contacts is spatially regulated within individual cells. On the basis of these findings it was concluded that adherens junctions are molecularly heterogeneous and consist of at least two major subgroups. Contacts with noncellular substrates contain talin and vinculin but not the 135-kD protein, whereas their intercellular counterparts contain the latter two proteins and are devoid of talin. The significance of these results and their possible relationships to contact-induced regulation of cell behavior are discussed.
Accumulating data suggest a link between alterations/deficiencies in cytoskeletal proteins and the progression of cardiomyopathy and heart failure, although the molecular basis for this link remains unclear. Cypher/ZASP is a cytoskeletal protein localized in the sarcomeric Z-line. Mutations in its encoding gene have been identified in patients with isolated non-compaction of the left ventricular myocardium, dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. To explore the role of Cypher in myocardium and to better understand molecular mechanisms by which mutations in cypher cause cardiomyopathy, we utilized a conditional approach to knockout Cypher, specially in either developing or adult myocardium. Cardiac-specific Cypher knockout (CKO) mice developed a severe form of DCM with disrupted cardiomyocyte ultrastructure and decreased cardiac function, which eventually led to death before 23 weeks of age. A similar phenotype was observed in inducible cardiac-specific CKO mice in which Cypher was specifically ablated in adult myocardium. In both cardiac-specific CKO models, ERK and Stat3 signaling pathways were augmented. Finally, we demonstrate the specific binding of Cypher's PDZ domain to the C-terminal region of both calsarcin-1 and myotilin within the Z-line. In conclusion, our studies suggest that (i) Cypher plays a pivotal role in maintaining adult cardiac structure and cardiac function through protein–protein interactions with other Z-line proteins, (ii) myocardial ablation of Cypher results in DCM with premature death and (iii) specific signaling pathways participate in Cypher mutant-mediated dysfunction of the heart, and may in concert facilitate the progression to heart failure.
Cardiomyocyte-like cells have been reported in thoracic veins of rodents and other mammals, but their differentiation state and relationship to the muscle mass in the heart remain to be characterized. Here we investigated the distribution, ultrastructure, and the expression and developmental regulation of myofilament proteins in mouse and rat pulmonary and azygos venous cardiomyocytes. Tracing cardiomyocytes in transgenic mouse tissues with a lacZ reporter gene driven by cloned rat cardiac troponin T promoter demonstrated scattered distribution of cardiomyocytes discontinuous from the atrial sleeves. The longitudinal axis of venous cardiomyocytes is perpendicular to that of the vessel. These cells contain typical sarcomere structures and intercalated discs as shown in electron microscopic images and express cardiac isoforms of troponin T, troponin I and myosin. The expression of troponin I isoform genes and the alternative splicing of cardiac troponin T in thoracic venous cardiomyocytes are regulated during postnatal development in a precise synchrony with that in the heart. Nonetheless, the patterns of cardiac troponin T splicing in adult rat thoracic venous cardiomyocytes are slightly but clearly distinct from those in the atrial and ventricular muscles. The data indicate that mouse and rat thoracic venous cardiomyocytes residing in extra-cardiac tissue possess a physiologically differentiated state and an intrinsically preset developmental clock, which are apparently independent of the very different hemodynamic environments and functional features of the vessels and heart.
cardiac muscle; myofilament protein; troponin isoform switch; development
We define here a previously unrecognized structural element close to the heart muscle plasma membrane at the intercalated disc where the myofibrils lead into the adherens junction. At this location, the plasma membrane is extensively folded. Immunofluorescence and immunogold electron microscopy reveal a spectrin-rich domain at the apex of the folds. These domains occur at the axial level of what would be the final Z-disc of the terminal sarcomere in the myofibril, although there is no Z-disc-like structure there. However, a sharp transitional boundary lies between the myofibrillar I-band and intercalated disc thin filaments, identifiable by the presence of Z-disc proteins, α-actinin, and N-terminal titin. This allows for the usual elastic positioning of the A-band in the final sarcomere, whereas the transduction of the contractile force normally associated with the Z-disc is transferred to the adherens junctions at the plasma membrane. The axial conjunction of the transitional junction with the spectrin-rich domains suggests a mechanism for direct communication between intercalated disc and contractile apparatus. In particular, it provides a means for sarcomeres to be added to the ends of the cells during growth. This is of particular relevance to understanding myocyte elongation in dilated cardiomyopathy.
The muscle LIM protein (MLP) is a muscle-specific LIM-only factor that exhibits a dual subcellular localization, being present in both the nucleus and in the cytoplasm. Overexpression of MLP in C2C12 myoblasts enhances skeletal myogenesis, whereas inhibition of MLP activity blocks terminal differentiation. Thus, MLP functions as a positive developmental regulator, although the mechanism through which MLP promotes terminal differentiation events remains unknown. While examining the distinct roles associated with the nuclear and cytoplasmic forms of MLP, we found that nuclear MLP functions through a physical interaction with the muscle basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) transcription factors MyoD, MRF4, and myogenin. This interaction is highly specific since MLP does not associate with nonmuscle bHLH proteins E12 or E47 or with the myocyte enhancer factor-2 (MEF2) protein, which acts cooperatively with the myogenic bHLH proteins to promote myogenesis. The first LIM motif in MLP and the highly conserved bHLH region of MyoD are responsible for mediating the association between these muscle-specific factors. MLP also interacts with MyoD-E47 heterodimers, leading to an increase in the DNA-binding activity associated with this active bHLH complex. Although MLP lacks a functional transcription activation domain, we propose that it serves as a cofactor for the myogenic bHLH proteins by increasing their interaction with specific DNA regulatory elements. Thus, the functional complex of MLP-MyoD-E protein reveals a novel mechanism for both initiating and maintaining the myogenic program and suggests a global strategy for how LIM-only proteins may control a variety of developmental pathways.
Decreases in the expression of connexin 43 and the integrity of gap junctions in cardiac muscle, induced by the constitutive activation of the c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) signaling pathway, have been linked to conduction defects and sudden cardiac failure in mice [16,17]. We examined the membrane cytoskeletal protein, αII-spectrin, which associates with connexin 43, to learn if changes in its association with connexin 43 are linked to the instability of gap junctions. Several forms of αII-spectrin are expressed in heart, including one, termed αII-SH3i, which contains a 20-amino acid sequence next to the SH3 domain of repeat 10. In adult mouse heart, antibodies to all forms of αII-spectrin labeled the sarcolemma, transverse (“t-”) tubules and intercalated disks of cardiomyocytes. In contrast, antibodies specific for αII-SH3i labeled only gap junctions and transverse tubules. In transgenic hearts, in which the JNK pathway was constitutively activated, αII-SH3i was lost specifically from gap junctions but not from t-tubules while other isoforms of αII-spectrin were retained at intercalated disks. Immunoprecipitations confirmed the decreased association of αII-SH3i with connexin 43 in transgenic hearts compared to controls. Furthermore, activation of JNK in neonatal myocytes blocked the formation of gap junctions by exogenously expressed Cx43-GFP fusion protein. Similarly, over-expression of the SH3i fragment in the context of repeats 9-11 of αII–spectrin specifically caused the accumulation of Cx43-GFP in the perinuclear region and inhibited its accumulation at gap junctions. These results support a critical role for the αII-SH3i isoform of spectrin in intracellular targeting of Cx43 to gap junctions and implicates αII-SH3i as a potential target for stress signaling pathways that modulate intercellular communication.
spectrin; connexin 43; gap junctions; cytoskeleton
Connexin 43 (Cx43) is the major protein component of gap junctions that electrically couple cardiomyocytes at the intercalated disc. Oxidant stress, reduced Cx43 expression, and altered subcellular localization are present in many forms of structural heart disease. These changes in Cx43 lead to alterations in electrical conduction in the ventricle and predispose to lethal cardiac arrhythmias. In their study in this issue of the JCI, Smyth et al. tested the hypothesis that oxidant stress perturbs connexon forward trafficking along microtubules to gap junctions (see the related article beginning on page 266). Failing human ventricular myocardium exhibited a reduction in Cx43 and the microtubule-capping protein EB1 at intercalated discs. Oxidant stress in the adult mouse heart reduced N-cadherin, EB1, and Cx43 colocalization. In HeLa cells and neonatal mouse ventricular myocytes, peroxide exposure displaced EB1 from the plus ends of microtubules and altered microtubule dynamics. Mutational disruption of the EB1-tubulin interaction mimicked the effects of oxidant stress, including a reduction in surface Cx43 expression. These data provide important new molecular insights into the regulation of Cx43 at gap junctions and may identify targets for preservation of cellular coupling in the diseased heart.
Plakoglobin (gamma-catenin), a member of the armadillo family of proteins, is a constituent of the cytoplasmic plaque of desmosomes as well as of other adhering cell junctions, and is involved in anchorage of cytoskeletal filaments to specific cadherins. We have generated a null mutation of the plakoglobin gene in mice. Homozygous -/- mutant animals die between days 12-16 of embryogenesis due to defects in heart function. Often, heart ventricles burst and blood floods the pericard. This tissue instability correlates with the absence of desmosomes in heart, but not in epithelia organs. Instead, extended adherens junctions are formed in the heart, which contain desmosomal proteins, i.e., desmoplakin. Thus, plakoglobin is an essential component of myocardiac desmosomes and seems to play a crucial role in the sorting out of desmosomal and adherens junction components, and consequently in the architecture of intercalated discs and the stabilization of heart tissue.
The Z-line, alternatively termed the Z-band or Z-disc, is a highly ordered structure at the border between two sarcomeres. Enigma subfamily proteins (Enigma, Enigma homolog protein and Cypher) of the PDZ-LIM domain protein family are Z-line proteins. Among the Enigma subfamily, Cypher has been demonstrated to play a pivotal role in the structure and function of striated muscle, whereas the role of Enigma homolog protein (ENH) in muscle remains largely unknown.
We studied the role of Enigma homolog protein in the heart using global and cardiac-specific ENH knockout mouse models.
Methods and Results
We identified new exons and splice isoforms for ENH in the mouse heart. Impaired cardiac contraction and dilated cardiomyopathy were observed in ENH null mice. Mice with cardiac specific ENH deletion developed a similar dilated cardiomyopathy. Like Cypher, ENH interacted with Calsarcin-1, another Z-line protein. Moreover, biochemical studies showed that ENH, Cypher short isoform and Calsarcin-1 are within the same protein complex at the Z-line. Cypher short isoform and Calsarcin-1 proteins are specifically downregulated in ENH null hearts.
We have identified an ENH-CypherS-Calsarcin protein complex at the Z-line. Ablation of ENH leads to destabilization of this protein complex and dilated cardiomyopathy.
Enigma homolog; ENH; dilated cardiomyopathy; Z-line; ENH-Cypher-Calsarcin-1 protein complex