Although the development of abnormal myocardial mechanics represents a key step during the transition from hypertension to overt heart failure (HF), the underlying ultrastructural and cellular basis of abnormal myocardial mechanics remains unclear. We therefore investigated how changes in transverse (T)-tubule organization and the resulting altered intracellular Ca(2+) cycling in large cell populations underlie the development of abnormal myocardial mechanics in a model of chronic hypertension. Hearts from spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHRs; n = 72) were studied at different ages and stages of hypertensive heart disease and early HF and were compared with age-matched control (Wistar-Kyoto) rats (n = 34). Echocardiography, including tissue Doppler and speckle-tracking analysis, was performed just before euthanization, after which T-tubule organization and Ca(2+) transients were studied using confocal microscopy. In SHRs, abnormalities in myocardial mechanics occurred early in response to hypertension, before the development of overt systolic dysfunction and HF. Reduced longitudinal, circumferential, and radial strain as well as reduced tissue Doppler early diastolic tissue velocities occurred in concert with T-tubule disorganization and impaired Ca(2+) cycling, all of which preceded the development of cardiac fibrosis. The time to peak of intracellular Ca(2+) transients was slowed due to T-tubule disruption, providing a link between declining cell ultrastructure and abnormal myocardial mechanics. In conclusion, subclinical abnormalities in myocardial mechanics occur early in response to hypertension and coincide with the development of T-tubule disorganization and impaired intracellular Ca(2+) cycling. These changes occur before the development of significant cardiac fibrosis and precede the development of overt cardiac dysfunction and HF.
Keywords: T-tubules; calcium transients; heart failure; hypertension; ventricular mechanics.