The effects of hypercholesterolemia on the myocardium per se include electrophysiological and mechanical alterations. Since gap junctions are essential in electromechanical coupling throughout the heart, we examined the correlation between the temporal expression of cardiac connexin 43 (Cx43), contractile function, and conduction velocity in cholesterol-fed rabbits. After a 12-week feeding period, serum cholesterol levels gradually increased (P<0.001). In contrast, expression of cardiomyocyte Cx43 protein progressively decreased (60% reduction at 12 weeks, P<0.001). Such a reduction was also demonstrated by immunoconfocal microscopy, which further showed redistribution of Cx43 gap junctions at the lateral cell membrane. The downregulation of Cx43 protein was associated with increased levels of Cx43 mRNA (3.5 -fold at 12 weeks, P<0.001) and phosphorylated c-Jun N-terminal kinase (three-fold at 12 weeks, P=0.001). Functionally, although fractional shortening of the left ventricle remained unchanged throughout the feeding protocol, the cholesterol-fed rabbits had a reduced cardiac cycle-dependent variation of integrated backscatters, a decreased mitral ring systolic velocity, and an increased modified Tei index (all P<0.001), all of which indicated impaired intrinsic myocardial contractility and attenuated ventricular systolic performance. In Langendorff-perfused hearts of cholesterol-fed rabbits, decreased conduction velocity was observed (P<0.005). Withdrawal of the cholesterol-enriched diet for 18 weeks restored the contractile parameters and Cx43 protein expression. These findings suggest that Cx43 is highly involved in the molecular mechanism of hypercholesterolemia-induced cardiac contractile dysfunction and dysrhythmias.
- Gap junction
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pathology and Forensic Medicine
- Molecular Biology
- Cell Biology