Background: Extracellular matrix proteins, such as laminins, and endothelial cells are known to influence cardiomyocyte performance; however, the underlying molecular mechanisms remain poorly understood.
Methods and results: We used a forward genetic screen in zebrafish to identify novel genes required for myocardial function and were able to identify the lost-contact (loc) mutant, which encodes a nonsense mutation in the integrin-linked kinase (ilk) gene. This loc/ilk mutant is associated with a severe defect in cardiomyocytes and endothelial cells that leads to severe myocardial dysfunction. Additional experiments revealed the epistatic regulation between laminin-alpha4 (Lama4), integrin, and Ilk, which led us to screen for mutations in the human ILK and LAMA4 genes in patients with severe dilated cardiomyopathy. We identified 2 novel amino acid residue-altering mutations (2828C>T [Pro943Leu] and 3217C>T [Arg1073X]) in the integrin-interacting domain of the LAMA4 gene and 1 mutation (785C>T [Ala262Val]) in the ILK gene. Biacore quantitative protein/protein interaction data, which have been used to determine the equilibrium dissociation constants, point to the loss of integrin-binding capacity in case of the Pro943Leu (Kd=5+/-3 micromol/L) and Arg1073X LAMA4 (Kd=1+/-0.2 micromol/L) mutants compared with the wild-type LAMA4 protein (Kd=440+/-20 nmol/L). Additional functional data point to the loss of endothelial cells in affected patients as a direct consequence of the mutant genes, which ultimately leads to heart failure.
Conclusions: This is the first report on mutations in the laminin, integrin, and ILK system in human cardiomyopathy, which has consequences for endothelial cells as well as for cardiomyocytes, thus providing a new genetic basis for dilated cardiomyopathy in humans.