Human pluripotent stem cell (hPSC)-derived cardiomyocytes hold great potential for in vitro modeling of diseases like cardiomyopathies. Yet, knowledge about expression and functional impact of sarcomeric protein isoforms like the myosin heavy chain (MyHC) in hPSC-cardiomyocytes is scarce. We hypothesized that ventricular β-MyHC expression alters contraction and calcium kinetics and drives morphological and electrophysiological differentiation towards ventricular-like cardiomyocytes. To address this, we (1) generated human embryonic stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes (hESC-CMs) that switched towards exclusive β-MyHC, and (2) functionally and morphologically characterized these hESC-CMs at the single-cell level. MyHC-isoforms and functional properties were investigated during prolonged in vitro culture of cardiomyocytes in floating cardiac bodies (soft conditions) vs. culture on a stiff matrix. Using a specific anti-β-MyHC and a newly generated anti-α-MyHC-antibody, we found individual cardiomyocytes grown in cardiac bodies to mostly express both α- and β-MyHC-protein isoforms. Yet, 35 and 75 days of cultivation on laminin-coated glass switched 66 and 87 % of all cardiomyocytes to exclusively express β-MyHC, respectively. Twitch contraction and calcium transients were faster for CMs on laminin-glass. Surprisingly, both parameters were only little affected by the MyHC-isoform, although hESC-CMs with only β-MyHC had much lower ATP-turnover and tension cost, just as in human ventricular cardiomyocytes. Spontaneous contractions and no strict coupling of β-MyHC to ventricular-like action potentials suggest that MyHC-isoform expression does not fully determine the hESC-CM differentiation status. Stiff substrate-induced pure β-MyHC-protein expression in hESC-CMs, with several contractile parameters close to ventricular cardiomyocytes, provides a well-defined in vitro system for modeling of cardiomyopathies and drug screening approaches.
Keywords: Calcium transients; Cardiac myosin heavy chain isoforms; Cardiomyocytes; Pluripotent stem cells; Tension cost; Twitch kinetics.