Abnormal heart rhythms arrhythmias are killers. They strike without warning, causing sudden cardiac death, which accounts for about 10 percent of all deaths in the United States.
Vanderbilt investigators have discovered a new molecular mechanism associated with arrhythmias. Their findings, reported in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, could lead to novel arrhythmia treatments.
"The current antiarrhythmic drugs do not prolong life," said Bjrn Knollmann, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of Medicine and Pharmacology and the senior author of the current report. "There's a large need for new approaches to antiarrhythmic therapy."
In their quest to understand how irregular heart rhythms arise as a way to find new molecular targets for treatment Knollmann and his colleagues have focused on the role of calcium inside heart muscle cells.
Calcium is central to the contractile cycle. After it is released from its storage sites in heart muscle cells, it interacts with proteins called troponins, part of the cell's myofilament contractile apparatus. The interaction of calcium with troponins regulates myofilament activation and contraction.
Mutations in troponin genes had been linked to inherited forms of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), which carries a high risk of sudden cardiac death. HCM is perhaps most famous as a cause of sudden cardiac death in young athletes, but it can affect individuals of any age.
In previous studies, Knollmann's team demonstrated that troponin mutations associated with HCM increase the sensitivity of the troponins to calcium they bind calcium more readily, which activates the myofilaments more easily and results in stronger contractions.
Increased myofilament calcium sensitivity has also been found in acquired heart diseases, such as heart failure, that have a high incidence of sudden cardiac death, Knollmann said. He and his colleagues proposed that increased myofilament calcium sensitivity contribut
|Contact: Leigh MacMillan|
Vanderbilt University Medical Center