Dysfunction of Myosin Light-Chain 4 (MYL4) Leads to Heritable Atrial Cardiomyopathy With Electrical, Contractile, and Structural Components: Evidence From Genetically-Engineered Rats

J Am Heart Assoc. 2017 Oct 28;6(11):e007030. doi: 10.1161/JAHA.117.007030.


Background: There is increasing interest in the concept of atrial cardiomyopathy, but the underlying molecular and mechanistic determinants remain poorly defined. We identified a family with heritable atrial cardiomyopathy manifesting as progressive atrial-selective electromechanical dysfunction, tachyarrhythmias, and bradyarrhythmias requiring pacemaker implantation. Myosin light-chain 4 (MYL4), encoding the atrial-selective essential myosin light chain, was identified as a candidate gene. We used genetically modified rat models to investigate the role of MYL4 in atrial cardiomyopathy.

Methods and results: Exome sequencing and systematic bioinformatic analyses identified a rare missense variant of MYL4 (c.31G>A [p.E11K]) in a large multiplex atrial cardiomyopathy family pedigree. The mutation cosegregated with atrial standstill (selected as the principal presenting trait) with a logarithm of the odds score of 5.3. The phenotype of rats with MYL4 mutation knock-in confirmed the causative role of the mutation. MYL4 knockout rats showed a similar atrial cardiomyopathy phenotype, whereas rats with an adjacent 4-amino-acid deletion showed no phenotype. Both MYL4 p.E11K knock-in rats and MYL4 knockout rats showed progressive atrial electrophysiological, contractile, and fibrotic abnormalities, similar to affected patients. Biochemical analyses of MYL4 p.E11K mutation rats showed activation of proapoptotic and profibrotic signaling, along with increased atrial-cardiomyocyte terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase dUTP nick end labeling staining, suggesting enhanced apoptotic cell death, findings that were mimicked by in vitro adenoviral transfer of the mutant gene to neonatal-rat cardiomyocytes.

Conclusions: Loss-of-function MYL4 gene variants cause progressive atrial cardiomyopathy in humans and rats. Our findings identify MYL4 as a key gene required for atrial contractile, electrical and structural integrity. These results improve our understanding of the molecular basis of atrial cardiomyopathy and introduce new models for further mechanistic analysis.

Keywords: animal models; arrhythmia; atrial fibrillation; cardiomyopathy; fibrosis; genetics.

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac / genetics
  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac / metabolism*
  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac / pathology
  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac / physiopathology
  • Atrial Remodeling*
  • Cardiomyopathies / genetics
  • Cardiomyopathies / metabolism*
  • Cardiomyopathies / pathology
  • Cardiomyopathies / physiopathology
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Fibrosis
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Heart Atria / metabolism*
  • Heart Atria / pathology
  • Heart Atria / physiopathology
  • Heart Conduction System / metabolism*
  • Heart Conduction System / pathology
  • Heart Conduction System / physiopathology
  • Heart Rate
  • Heredity
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mutation, Missense
  • Myocardial Contraction*
  • Myocytes, Cardiac / metabolism
  • Myocytes, Cardiac / pathology
  • Myosin Light Chains / genetics
  • Myosin Light Chains / metabolism*
  • Phenotype
  • Rats, Transgenic
  • Signal Transduction
  • Young Adult


  • MYL4 protein, human
  • Myosin Light Chains