Background: The role of the giant protein titin in patients with heart failure is not well established. We investigated titin expression in patients with end-stage heart failure resulting from nonischemic dilated cardiomyopathy, in particular as it relates to left ventricular (LV) myocardial stiffness and LV function.
Methods and results: SDS-agarose gels revealed small N2B (stiff) and large N2BA (compliant) cardiac titin isoforms with a mean N2BA:N2B expression ratio that was significantly (P<0.003) increased in 20 heart failure patients versus 6 controls. However, total titin was unchanged. The coexpression ratio was highest in a subsample of patients with an impaired LV relaxation pattern (n=7), intermediate in those with pseudonormal filling (n=6), and lowest in the group with restrictive filling (n=7). Mechanical measurements on LV muscle strips dissected from these hearts (n=8) revealed that passive muscle stiffness was significantly reduced in patients with a high N2BA:N2B expression ratio. Clinical correlations support the relevance of these changes for LV function (assessed by invasive hemodynamics and Doppler echocardiography). A positive correlation between the N2BA:N2B titin isoform ratio and deceleration time of mitral E velocity, A wave transit time, and end diastolic volume/pressure ratio was found. These changes affect exercise tolerance, as indicated by the positive correlation between the N2BA:N2B isoform ratio and peak O2 consumption (n=10). Upregulated N2BA expression was accompanied by increased expression levels of titin-binding proteins (cardiac ankyrin repeat protein, ankrd2, and diabetes ankyrin repeat protein) that bind to the N2A element of N2BA titin (studied in 13 patients).
Conclusions: Total titin content was unchanged in end-stage failing hearts and the more compliant N2BA isoform comprised a greater percentage of titin in these hearts. Changes in titin isoform expression in heart failure patients with dilated cardiomyopathy significantly impact diastolic filling by lowering myocardial stiffness. Upregulation of titin-binding proteins indicates that the importance of altered titin expression might extend to cell signaling and regulation of gene expression.