Bcl-2 overexpression corrects mitochondrial defects and ameliorates inherited desmin null cardiomyopathy

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2004 Jan 20;101(3):769-74. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0303202101. Epub 2004 Jan 8.


One of the hallmarks of cardiomyopathy and heart failure is pronounced and progressive cardiomyocyte death. Understanding the mechanisms involved in cardiomyocyte cell death is a topic of great interest for treatment of cardiac disease. Mice null for desmin, the muscle-specific member of the intermediate filament gene family, develop cardiomyopathy characterized by extensive cardiomyocyte death, fibrosis, calcification, and eventual heart failure. The earliest ultrastructural defects are observed in mitochondria. In the present study, we have demonstrated that these mitochondrial abnormalities are the primary cause of the observed cardiomyopathy and that these defects can be ameliorated by overexpression of bcl-2 in desmin null heart. Overexpression of bcl-2 in the desmin null heart results in correction of mitochondrial defects, reduced occurrence of fibrotic lesions in the myocardium, prevention of cardiac hypertrophy, restoration of cardiomyocyte ultrastructure, and significant improvement of cardiac function. Furthermore, we have found that loss of desmin also diminishes the capacity of mitochondria to resist exposure to calcium, a defect that can be partially restored by bcl-2 overexpression. These results point to a unique function for desmin in protection of mitochondria from calcium exposure that can be partially rescued by overexpression of bcl-2. We show that bcl-2 cardiac overexpression has provided significant improvement of an inherited form of cardiomyopathy, revealing the potential for bcl-2, and perhaps other genes in the family, as therapeutic agents for heart disease of many types, including inherited forms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcinosis / pathology
  • Calcium / pharmacology
  • Cardiomyopathy, Hypertrophic, Familial / genetics*
  • Cardiomyopathy, Hypertrophic, Familial / pathology
  • Cardiomyopathy, Hypertrophic, Familial / therapy*
  • Desmin / deficiency*
  • Desmin / genetics
  • Fibrosis
  • Gene Expression
  • Genes, bcl-2*
  • Genetic Therapy
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Mitochondrial Diseases / genetics*
  • Mitochondrial Diseases / pathology
  • Mitochondrial Diseases / therapy*
  • Mitochondrial Swelling / drug effects
  • Myocardium / pathology
  • Organ Size


  • Desmin
  • Calcium