Small dedifferentiated cardiomyocytes bordering on microdomains of fibrosis: evidence for reverse remodeling with assisted recovery.
With the perspective of functional myocardial regeneration, we investigated small cardiomyocytes bordering on microdomains of fibrosis, where they are dedifferentiated re-expressing fetal genes, and determined: (1) whether they are atrophied segments of the myofiber syncytium, (2) their redox state, (3) their anatomic relationship to activated myofibroblasts (myoFb), given their putative regulatory role in myocyte dedifferentiation and redifferentiation, (4) the relevance of proteolytic ligases of the ubiquitin-proteasome system as a mechanistic link to their size, and (5) whether they could be rescued from their dedifferentiated phenotype. Chronic aldosterone/salt treatment (ALDOST) was invoked, where hypertensive heart disease with attendant myocardial fibrosis creates the fibrillar collagen substrate for myocyte sequestration, with propensity for disuse atrophy, activated myoFb, and oxidative stress. To address phenotype rescue, 4 weeks of ALDOST was terminated followed by 4 weeks of neurohormonal withdrawal combined with a regimen of exogenous antioxidants, ZnSO4, and nebivolol (assisted recovery). Compared with controls, at 4 weeks of ALDOST, we found small myocytes to be: (1) sequestered by collagen fibrils emanating from microdomains of fibrosis and representing atrophic segments of the myofiber syncytia, (2) dedifferentiated re-expressing fetal genes (?-myosin heavy chain and atrial natriuretic peptide), (3) proximal to activated myoFb expressing ?-smooth muscle actin microfilaments and angiotensin-converting enzyme, (4) expressing reactive oxygen species and nitric oxide with increased tissue 8-isoprostane, coupled to ventricular diastolic and systolic dysfunction, and (5) associated with upregulated redox-sensitive proteolytic ligases MuRF1 and atrogin-1. In a separate study, we did not find evidence of myocyte replication (BrdU labeling) or expression of stem cell antigen (c-Kit) at weeks 1-4 ALDOST. Assisted recovery caused complete disappearance of myoFb from sites of fibrosis with redifferentiation of these myocytes, loss of oxidative stress, and ubiquitin-proteasome system activation, with restoration of nitric oxide and improved ventricular function. Thus, small dedifferentiated myocytes bordering on microdomains of fibrosis can re-differentiate and represent a potential source of autologous cells for functional myocardial regeneration.