Cardiomyocyte cell-cell junctions in development, disease and injury
Maqsood, Sana Abrar
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Introduction: Cardiac cell-cell junctions play important roles in maintaining cardiac integrity linking single cardiomyocytes into a single functioning syncytium. There are three main types of cell junctions in the heart: gap junctions (GJ), desmosomes (D) and adherens junctions (AJ). Mutations in the proteins which make-up these junctions are known to cause arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC). Pathological features include progressive replacement of right ventricular cardiac muscle with fibrofatty tissue. This can lead to heart failure and life threatening arrhythmias. During normal development of the mammalian heart, protein components of AJ and D gradually fuse to form composite junctions at the intercalated discs, also called areae compositae (singular, area composita, AC). In contrast, the adult heart of lower vertebrates, including the zebrafish, may have few or no AC type junctions. The detailed structure of cardiomyocyte cell-cell junctions in the adult zebrafish heart remain poorly defined and their role in normal development, growth and response to injury have yet to be studied. This thesis will examine the hypothesis that localisation and distribution of myocardial cell-cell junction proteins are crucial in normal myocardial development and in endogenous cardiac regeneration and repair following injury. This will be achieved by understanding the normal development of cell-cell junction proteins in zebrafish from embryonic to adulthood. These findings will then be analysed in comparison to cell-cell junction proteins localisation and distribution in early and late mammalian (mouse and human) myocardium. Once a normal pattern of cell-cell junction proteins will be established, the localisation of cell-cell junction proteins in plakologbin mutant zebrafish model for cardiomyopathy will be studied to understand the distribution and localisation of these proteins in disease manifestation. This model will then be used to test if localisation of cell-cell junction proteins plays an important in cardiac repair following injury by using embryonic laser injury model, this will be further tested by drug intervention study to investigate underlying pathways such as Wnt signalling pathway. Methods: Myocardial cell-cell junctions were assessed using immunohistochemistry in embryonic, juvenile and adult zebrafish hearts and in foetal and adult human hearts. The Plakoglobin mutant zebrafish line (UAS:Gal-4:Plakoglobin Naxos; named as PGNx) was characterised using various functional and morphological assessments including histology, echocardiography and MRI scanning. Similar studies were undertaken in PGNx mutants at different developmental stages. A pharmacological intervention study, using a GSK-3 inhibitor, was carried out in PGNx mutants followed by cardiac structural and functional assessments. Laser-induced cardiac trauma was used to assess the response to injury and repair in normal and PGNx embryos following treatment with the GSK3 inhibitor drug. Results: Cell-cell junction patterning in the embryonic, juvenile and adult zebrafish heart shows a characteristic pearl string appearance of desmoplakin and β-catenin labelled distinct disc shaped AJ. Human foetal heart showed small distinct D and AJ, while the adult human heart had features consistent with AC type junctions. PGNx fish showed reduced ventricle ejection fraction, dilatation of the atrium, reduced amplitude of wall motion and ventricle relaxation velocity compared to age-matched controls. Echocardiography and MRI imaging confirmed severe atrial dilatation and restrictive ventricle physiology in adult fish. The cell-cell junction proteins were over-expressed in the zebrafish PG mutant (PGNx) hearts compared to age-matched controls. Drug studies using a GSK-3β inhibitor showed complete recovery of cardiac function and partial recovery of heart structure. Cardiac injury studies, using laser, showed failure of repair in PGNx embryos compared to age-matched controls. The GSK3 inhibitor failed to improve the functional response following heart laser injury. Conclusions: Cell-cell junctions are distributed abundantly around cardiomyocytes in the zebrafish heart during early development and into adulthood. In contrast to previous studies in adult mammalian heart, there was no evidence of AC type junctions in adult zebrafish cardiomyocytes. The mutant zebrafish line showed restrictive cardiac physiology and abnormal cardiac structure confirming the key role played by plakoglobin in the normal heart development. This is further supported by evidence showing failure of repair in PGNx mutant embryos after injury. Drug treatment with a GSK-3 inhibitor highlights a potentially novel therapeutic pathway for treatment of ARVC involving Wnt signalling.