The NF-κB subunit c-Rel stimulates cardiac hypertrophy and fibrosis

Am J Pathol. 2012 Mar;180(3):929-939. doi: 10.1016/j.ajpath.2011.11.007. Epub 2011 Dec 30.


Cardiac remodeling and hypertrophy are the pathological consequences of cardiovascular disease and are correlated with its associated mortality. Activity of the transcription factor NF-κB is increased in the diseased heart; however, our present understanding of how the individual subunits contribute to cardiovascular disease is limited. We assign a new role for the c-Rel subunit as a stimulator of cardiac hypertrophy and fibrosis. We discovered that c-Rel-deficient mice have smaller hearts at birth, as well as during adulthood, and are protected from developing cardiac hypertrophy and fibrosis after chronic angiotensin infusion. Results of both gene expression and cross-linked chromatin immunoprecipitation assay analyses identified transcriptional activators of hypertrophy, myocyte enhancer family, Gata4, and Tbx proteins as Rel gene targets. We suggest that the p50 subunit could limit the prohypertrophic actions of c-Rel in the normal heart, because p50 overexpression in H9c2 cells repressed c-Rel levels and the absence of cardiac p50 was associated with increases in both c-Rel levels and cardiac hypertrophy. We report for the first time that c-Rel is highly expressed and confined to the nuclei of diseased adult human hearts but is restricted to the cytoplasm of normal cardiac tissues. We conclude that c-Rel-dependent signaling is critical for both cardiac remodeling and hypertrophy. Targeting its activities could offer a novel therapeutic strategy to limit the effects of cardiac disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Angiotensins / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Blood Pressure / physiology
  • Cardiomegaly / etiology*
  • Cardiomegaly / metabolism
  • Cardiomegaly / pathology
  • Fibrosis
  • Gene Deletion
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Myocardium / pathology*
  • NF-kappa B / physiology*
  • NF-kappa B p50 Subunit / metabolism
  • NF-kappa B p50 Subunit / physiology
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-rel / deficiency
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-rel / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-rel / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Ventricular Remodeling / physiology


  • Angiotensins
  • NF-kappa B
  • NF-kappa B p50 Subunit
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-rel