Cardiac hypertrophy is a leading predicator of progressive heart disease that often leads to heart failure and a loss of cardiac contractile performance associated with profound alterations in intracellular calcium handling. Recent investigation has centered on identifying the molecular signaling pathways that regulate cardiac myocyte hypertrophy, as well as the mechanisms whereby alterations in calcium handling are associated with progressive heart failure. One potential focal regulator of cardiomyocyte hypertrophy that also responds to altered calcium handling is the calmodulin-activated serine/threonine protein phosphatase calcineurin (PP2B). Once activated by increases in calcium, calcineurin mediates the hypertrophic response through its downstream transcriptional effector nuclear factor of activated T cells (NFAT), which is directly dephosphorylated by calcineurin resulting in nuclear translocation. While previous studies have convincingly demonstrated the sufficiency of calcineurin to mediate cardiac hypertrophy and progressive heart failure, its necessity remains an area of ongoing investigation. Here we weigh an increasing body of literature that suggests a causal link between calcineurin signaling and the cardiac hypertrophic response and heart failure through the use of pharmacologic inhibitors (cyclosporine A and FK506) and genetic approaches. We will also discuss the manner in which calcineurin-NFAT signaling is negatively regulated in the heart through a diverse array of kinases and inhibitory proteins. Finally, we will discuss emerging theories as to the mechanisms whereby alterations in intracellular calcium handling might stimulate calcineurin within the context of a contractile cell continually experiencing calcium flux.
Copyright 2004 Elsevier Inc.