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1.  Genome-wide profiling of the cardiac transcriptome after myocardial infarction identifies novel heart-specific long non-coding RNAs 
European Heart Journal  2014;36(6):353-368.
Heart disease is recognized as a consequence of dysregulation of cardiac gene regulatory networks. Previously, unappreciated components of such networks are the long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs). Their roles in the heart remain to be elucidated. Thus, this study aimed to systematically characterize the cardiac long non-coding transcriptome post-myocardial infarction and to elucidate their potential roles in cardiac homoeostasis.
Methods and results
We annotated the mouse transcriptome after myocardial infarction via RNA sequencing and ab initio transcript reconstruction, and integrated genome-wide approaches to associate specific lncRNAs with developmental processes and physiological parameters. Expression of specific lncRNAs strongly correlated with defined parameters of cardiac dimensions and function. Using chromatin maps to infer lncRNA function, we identified many with potential roles in cardiogenesis and pathological remodelling. The vast majority was associated with active cardiac-specific enhancers. Importantly, oligonucleotide-mediated knockdown implicated novel lncRNAs in controlling expression of key regulatory proteins involved in cardiogenesis. Finally, we identified hundreds of human orthologues and demonstrate that particular candidates were differentially modulated in human heart disease.
These findings reveal hundreds of novel heart-specific lncRNAs with unique regulatory and functional characteristics relevant to maladaptive remodelling, cardiac function and possibly cardiac regeneration. This new class of molecules represents potential therapeutic targets for cardiac disease. Furthermore, their exquisite correlation with cardiac physiology renders them attractive candidate biomarkers to be used in the clinic.
PMCID: PMC4320320  PMID: 24786300
Myocardial infarction; Heart failure; Transcriptome; Long non-coding RNAs; Next-generation sequencing
2.  Correction: Mapping Genetic Variants Associated with Beta-Adrenergic Responses in Inbred Mice 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(1):10.1371/annotation/16d5801b-2701-4ec9-9d8e-278791a8a26a.
PMCID: PMC3880413
3.  The AP-1 Transcription Factor c-Jun Prevents Stress-Imposed Maladaptive Remodeling of the Heart 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(9):e73294.
Systemic hypertension increases cardiac workload and subsequently induces signaling networks in heart that underlie myocyte growth (hypertrophic response) through expansion of sarcomeres with the aim to increase contractility. However, conditions of increased workload can induce both adaptive and maladaptive growth of heart muscle. Previous studies implicate two members of the AP-1 transcription factor family, junD and fra-1, in regulation of heart growth during hypertrophic response. In this study, we investigate the function of the AP-1 transcription factors, c-jun and c-fos, in heart growth. Using pressure overload-induced cardiac hypertrophy in mice and targeted deletion of Jun or Fos in cardiomyocytes, we show that c-jun is required for adaptive cardiac hypertrophy, while c-fos is dispensable in this context. c-jun promotes expression of sarcomere proteins and suppresses expression of extracellular matrix proteins. Capacity of cardiac muscle to contract depends on organization of principal thick and thin filaments, myosin and actin, within the sarcomere. In line with decreased expression of sarcomere-associated proteins, Jun-deficient cardiomyocytes present disarrangement of filaments in sarcomeres and actin cytoskeleton disorganization. Moreover, Jun-deficient hearts subjected to pressure overload display pronounced fibrosis and increased myocyte apoptosis finally resulting in dilated cardiomyopathy. In conclusion, c-jun but not c-fos is required to induce a transcriptional program aimed at adapting heart growth upon increased workload.
PMCID: PMC3769267  PMID: 24039904
4.  Isolation of Cardiovascular Precursor Cells from the Human Fetal Heart 
Tissue Engineering. Part A  2011;18(1-2):198-207.
Weakening of cardiac function in patients with heart failure results from a loss of cardiomyocytes in the damaged heart. Cell replacement therapies as a way to induce myocardial regeneration in humans could represent attractive alternatives to classical drug-based approaches. However, a suitable source of precursor cells, which could produce a functional myocardium after transplantation, remains to be identified. In the present study, we isolated cardiovascular precursor cells from ventricles of human fetal hearts at 12 weeks of gestation. These cells expressed Nkx2.5 but not late cardiac markers such as α-actinin and troponin I. In addition, proliferating cells expressed the mesenchymal stem cell markers CD73, CD90, and CD105. Evidence for functional cardiogenic differentiation in vitro was demonstrated by the upregulation of cardiac gene expression as well as the appearance of cells with organized sarcomeric structures. Importantly, differentiated cells presented spontaneous and triggered calcium signals. Differentiation into smooth muscle cells was also detected. In contrast, precursor cells did not produce endothelial cells. The engraftment and differentiation capacity of green fluorescent protein (GFP)-labeled cardiac precursor cells were then tested in vivo after transfer into the heart of immunodeficient severe combined immunodeficient mice. Engrafted human cells were readily detected in the mouse myocardium. These cells retained their cardiac commitment and differentiated into α-actinin-positive cardiomyocytes. Expression of connexin-43 at the interface between GFP-labeled and endogenous cardiomyocytes indicated that precursor-derived cells connected to the mouse myocardium. Together, these results suggest that human ventricular nonmyocyte cells isolated from fetal hearts represent a suitable source of precursors for cell replacement therapies.
PMCID: PMC3246410  PMID: 21902604
5.  The Notch pathway controls fibrotic and regenerative repair in the adult heart 
European Heart Journal  2012;35(32):2174-2185.
In the adult heart, Notch signalling regulates the response to injury. Notch inhibition leads to increased cardiomyocyte apoptosis, and exacerbates the development of cardiac hypertrophy and fibrosis. The role of Notch in the mesenchymal stromal cell fraction, which contains cardiac fibroblasts and cardiac precursor cells, is, however, largely unknown. In the present study, we evaluate, therefore, whether forced activation of the Notch pathway in mesenchymal stromal cells regulates pathological cardiac remodelling.
Methods and results
We generated transgenic mice overexpressing the Notch ligand Jagged1 on the surface of cardiomyocytes to activate Notch signalling in adjacent myocyte and non-myocyte cells. In neonatal transgenic mice, activated Notch sustained cardiac precursor and myocyte proliferation after birth, and led to increased numbers of cardiac myocytes in adult mice. In the adult heart under pressure overload, Notch inhibited the development of cardiomyocyte hypertrophy and transforming growth factor-β/connective tissue growth factor-mediated cardiac fibrosis. Most importantly, Notch activation in the stressed adult heart reduced the proliferation of myofibroblasts and stimulated the expansion of stem cell antigen-1-positive cells, and in particular of Nkx2.5-positive cardiac precursor cells.
We conclude that Notch is pivotal in the healing process of the injured heart. Specifically, Notch regulates key cellular mechanisms in the mesenchymal stromal cell population, and thereby controls the balance between fibrotic and regenerative repair in the adult heart. Altogether, these findings indicate that Notch represents a unique therapeutic target for inducing regeneration in the adult heart via mobilization of cardiac precursor cells.
PMCID: PMC4139705  PMID: 23166366
Hypertrophy; Regeneration; Cardiac precursor cells; Notch signalling
6.  Mapping Genetic Variants Associated with Beta-Adrenergic Responses in Inbred Mice 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(7):e41032.
β-blockers and β-agonists are primarily used to treat cardiovascular diseases. Inter-individual variability in response to both drug classes is well recognized, yet the identity and relative contribution of the genetic players involved are poorly understood. This work is the first genome-wide association study (GWAS) addressing the values and susceptibility of cardiovascular-related traits to a selective β1-blocker, Atenolol (ate), and a β-agonist, Isoproterenol (iso). The phenotypic dataset consisted of 27 highly heritable traits, each measured across 22 inbred mouse strains and four pharmacological conditions. The genotypic panel comprised 79922 informative SNPs of the mouse HapMap resource. Associations were mapped by Efficient Mixed Model Association (EMMA), a method that corrects for the population structure and genetic relatedness of the various strains. A total of 205 separate genome-wide scans were analyzed. The most significant hits include three candidate loci related to cardiac and body weight, three loci for electrocardiographic (ECG) values, two loci for the susceptibility of atrial weight index to iso, four loci for the susceptibility of systolic blood pressure (SBP) to perturbations of the β-adrenergic system, and one locus for the responsiveness of QTc (p<10−8). An additional 60 loci were suggestive for one or the other of the 27 traits, while 46 others were suggestive for one or the other drug effects (p<10−6). Most hits tagged unexpected regions, yet at least two loci for the susceptibility of SBP to β-adrenergic drugs pointed at members of the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid axis. Loci for cardiac-related traits were preferentially enriched in genes expressed in the heart, while 23% of the testable loci were replicated with datasets of the Mouse Phenome Database (MPD). Altogether these data and validation tests indicate that the mapped loci are relevant to the traits and responses studied.
PMCID: PMC3409184  PMID: 22859963
7.  EH-myomesin splice isoform is a novel marker for dilated cardiomyopathy 
Basic Research in Cardiology  2010;106(2):233-247.
The M-band is the prominent cytoskeletal structure that cross-links the myosin and titin filaments in the middle of the sarcomere. To investigate M-band alterations in heart disease, we analyzed the expression of its main components, proteins of the myomesin family, in mouse and human cardiomyopathy. Cardiac function was assessed by echocardiography and compared to the expression pattern of myomesins evaluated with RT-PCR, Western blot, and immunofluorescent analysis. Disease progression in transgenic mouse models for dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) was accompanied by specific M-band alterations. The dominant splice isoform in the embryonic heart, EH-myomesin, was strongly up-regulated in the failing heart and correlated with a decrease in cardiac function (R = −0.86). In addition, we have analyzed the expressions of myomesins in human myocardial biopsies (N = 40) obtained from DCM patients, DCM patients supported by a left ventricular assist device (LVAD), hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) patients and controls. Quantitative RT-PCR revealed that the EH-myomesin isoform was up-regulated 41-fold (P < 0.001) in the DCM patients compared to control patients. In DCM hearts supported by a LVAD and HCM hearts, the EH-myomesin expression was comparable to controls. Immunofluorescent analyses indicate that EH-myomesin was enhanced in a cell-specific manner, leading to a higher heterogeneity of the myocytes’ cytoskeleton through the myocardial wall. We suggest that the up-regulation of EH-myomesin denotes an adaptive remodeling of the sarcomere cytoskeleton in the dilated heart and might serve as a marker for DCM in mouse and human myocardium.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00395-010-0131-2) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC3032906  PMID: 21069531
Dilated cardiomyopathy; Heart failure; Sarcomere cytoskeleton; M-band; Myomesin
8.  Cardiovascular Response to Beta-Adrenergic Blockade or Activation in 23 Inbred Mouse Strains 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(8):e6610.
We report the characterisation of 27 cardiovascular-related traits in 23 inbred mouse strains. Mice were phenotyped either in response to chronic administration of a single dose of the β-adrenergic receptor blocker atenolol or under a low and a high dose of the β-agonist isoproterenol and compared to baseline condition. The robustness of our data is supported by high trait heritabilities (typically H2>0.7) and significant correlations of trait values measured in baseline condition with independent multistrain datasets of the Mouse Phenome Database. We then focused on the drug-, dose-, and strain-specific responses to β-stimulation and β-blockade of a selection of traits including heart rate, systolic blood pressure, cardiac weight indices, ECG parameters and body weight. Because of the wealth of data accumulated, we applied integrative analyses such as comprehensive bi-clustering to investigate the structure of the response across the different phenotypes, strains and experimental conditions. Information extracted from these analyses is discussed in terms of novelty and biological implications. For example, we observe that traits related to ventricular weight in most strains respond only to the high dose of isoproterenol, while heart rate and atrial weight are already affected by the low dose. Finally, we observe little concordance between strain similarity based on the phenotypes and genotypic relatedness computed from genomic SNP profiles. This indicates that cardiovascular phenotypes are unlikely to segregate according to global phylogeny, but rather be governed by smaller, local differences in the genetic architecture of the various strains.
PMCID: PMC2722085  PMID: 19672458
9.  Control of the adaptive response of the heart to stress via the Notch1 receptor pathway 
The Journal of Experimental Medicine  2008;205(13):3173-3185.
In the damaged heart, cardiac adaptation relies primarily on cardiomyocyte hypertrophy. The recent discovery of cardiac stem cells in the postnatal heart, however, suggests that these cells could participate in the response to stress via their capacity to regenerate cardiac tissues. Using models of cardiac hypertrophy and failure, we demonstrate that components of the Notch pathway are up-regulated in the hypertrophic heart. The Notch pathway is an evolutionarily conserved cell-to-cell communication system, which is crucial in many developmental processes. Notch also plays key roles in the regenerative capacity of self-renewing organs. In the heart, Notch1 signaling takes place in cardiomyocytes and in mesenchymal cardiac precursors and is activated secondary to stimulated Jagged1 expression on the surface of cardiomyocytes. Using mice lacking Notch1 expression specifically in the heart, we show that the Notch1 pathway controls pathophysiological cardiac remodeling. In the absence of Notch1, cardiac hypertrophy is exacerbated, fibrosis develops, function is altered, and the mortality rate increases. Therefore, in cardiomyocytes, Notch controls maturation, limits the extent of the hypertrophic response, and may thereby contribute to cell survival. In cardiac precursors, Notch prevents cardiogenic differentiation, favors proliferation, and may facilitate the expansion of a transient amplifying cell compartment.
PMCID: PMC2605223  PMID: 19064701
10.  Overexpression of a mutant form of TGFBI/BIGH3 induces retinal degeneration in transgenic mice 
Molecular Vision  2008;14:1129-1137.
Despite ubiquitous expression of the keratoepithelin (KE) protein encoded by the transforming growth factor beta induced/beta induced gene human clone 3 (TGFBI/BIGH3) gene, corneal dystrophies are restricted to the cornea, and no other tissues are affected. We investigated the role of TGFBI/BIGH3 in Groenouw corneal dystrophies by generating transgenic mice overexpressing TGFBI/BIGH3 containing the R555W mutation.
Transgenic animals expressing the Groenouw mutation of human TGFBI/BIGH3 were generated using lentiviral vectors. The line expressed TGFBI/BIGH3 containing the R555W mutation under the control of the phosphoglycerate kinase (PGK) promoter. Expression of the transgene was monitored by Southern and western blotting and by RT–PCR. Electroretinogram analysis was performed and four mice were subjected to complete necroscopy.
Transgene expression was observed in different organs although without specific expression in the cornea. The overall morphology of the transgenic animals was not severely affected by KE overexpression. However, we observed an age-dependent retinal degeneration both functionally and histologically. Female-specific follicular hyperplasia in the spleen and increased levels of lipofuscin in the adrenal gland were also seen in transgenic animals.
Cellular degeneration in the retina of transgenic animals suggest that perturbation of the transforming growth factor beta (TGFβ) family regulation may affect photoreceptor survival and may induce possible accelerated aging in several tissues. No corneal phenotype could be observed, probably due to the lack of transgene expression in this tissue.
PMCID: PMC2429980  PMID: 18568131
11.  GLUT8 Is Dispensable for Embryonic Development but Influences Hippocampal Neurogenesis and Heart Function 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2006;26(11):4268-4276.
GLUT8 is a glucose transporter isoform expressed at high levels in testis; at intermediate levels in the brain, including the hippocampus; and at lower levels in the heart and several other tissues. GLUT8 is located in an intracellular compartment and does not appear to translocate to the cell surface, except in blastocysts, where insulin has been reported to induce its surface expression. Here, we generated mice with inactivation of the glut8 gene. We showed that expression of GLUT8 was not required for normal embryonic development and that glut8−/− mice had normal postnatal development, glucose homeostasis, and response to mild stress. Adult glut8−/− mice showed increased proliferation of hippocampal cells but no defect in memory acquisition and retention. Absence of GLUT8 from the heart did not alter heart size and morphology but led to an increase in P-wave duration, which was not associated with abnormal Nav1.5 Na+ channel or connexin expression. Thus, absence of GLUT8 expression in the mouse caused complex but mild physiological alterations.
PMCID: PMC1489108  PMID: 16705176
12.  Connexin43-dependent mechanism modulates renin secretion and hypertension 
Journal of Clinical Investigation  2006;116(2):405-413.
To investigate the function of Cx43 during hypertension, we studied the mouse line Cx43KI32 (KI32), in which the coding region of Cx32 replaces that of Cx43. Within the kidneys of homozygous KI32 mice, Cx32 was expressed in cortical and medullary tubules, as well as in some extra- and intraglomerular vessels, i.e., at sites where Cx32 and Cx43 are found in WT mice. Under such conditions, renin expression was much reduced compared with that observed in the kidneys of WT and heterozygous KI32 littermates. After exposure to a high-salt diet, all mice retained a normal blood pressure. However, whereas the levels of renin were significantly reduced in the kidneys of WT and heterozygous KI32 mice, reaching levels comparable to those observed in homozygous littermates, they were not further affected in the latter animals. Four weeks after the clipping of a renal artery (the 2-kidney, 1-clip [2K1C] model), 2K1C WT and heterozygous mice showed an increase in blood pressure and in the circulating levels of renin, whereas 2K1C homozygous littermates remained normotensive and showed unchanged plasma renin activity. Hypertensive, but not normotensive, mice also developed cardiac hypertrophy. The data indicate that replacement of Cx43 by Cx32 is associated with decreased expression and secretion of renin, thus preventing the renin-dependent hypertension that is normally induced in the 2K1C model.
PMCID: PMC1350996  PMID: 16440062
13.  FGF-2 controls the differentiation of resident cardiac precursors into functional cardiomyocytes 
Journal of Clinical Investigation  2005;115(7):1724-1733.
Recent evidence suggests that the heart possesses a greater regeneration capacity than previously thought. In the present study, we isolated undifferentiated precursors from the cardiac nonmyocyte cell population of neonatal hearts, expanded them in culture, and induced them to differentiate into functional cardiomyocytes. These cardiac precursors appear to express stem cell antigen–1 and demonstrate characteristics of multipotent precursors of mesodermal origin. Following infusion into normal recipients, these cells home to the heart and participate in physiological and pathophysiological cardiac remodeling. Cardiogenic differentiation in vitro and in vivo depends on FGF-2. Interestingly, this factor does not control the number of precursors but regulates the differentiation process. These findings suggest that, besides its angiogenic actions, FGF-2 could be used in vivo to facilitate the mobilization and differentiation of resident cardiac precursors in the treatment of cardiac diseases.
PMCID: PMC1143587  PMID: 15951838
14.  Dilated cardiomyopathy and impaired cardiac hypertrophic response to angiotensin II in mice lacking FGF-2 
Journal of Clinical Investigation  2001;108(12):1843-1851.
FGF-2 has been implicated in the cardiac response to hypertrophic stimuli. Angiotensin II (Ang II) contributes to maintain elevated blood pressure in hypertensive individuals and exerts direct trophic effects on cardiac cells. However, the role of FGF-2 in Ang II–induced cardiac hypertrophy has not been established. Therefore, mice deficient in FGF-2 expression were studied using a model of Ang II–dependent hypertension and cardiac hypertrophy. Echocardiographic measurements show the presence of dilated cardiomyopathy in normotensive mice lacking FGF-2. Moreover, hypertensive mice without FGF-2 developed no compensatory cardiac hypertrophy. In wild-type mice, hypertrophy was associated with a stimulation of the c-Jun N-terminal kinase, the extracellular signal regulated kinase, and the p38 kinase pathways. In contrast, mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) activation was markedly attenuated in FGF-2–deficient mice. In vitro, FGF-2 of fibroblast origin was demonstrated to be essential in the paracrine stimulation of MAPK activation in cardiomyocytes. Indeed, fibroblasts lacking FGF-2 expression have a defective capacity for releasing growth factors to induce hypertrophic responses in cardiomyocytes. Therefore, these results identify the cardiac fibroblast population as a primary integrator of hypertrophic stimuli in the heart, and suggest that FGF-2 is a crucial mediator of cardiac hypertrophy via autocrine/paracrine actions on cardiac cells.
PMCID: PMC209469  PMID: 11748268

Results 1-14 (14)