Novel Functional Role of Heat Shock Protein 90 in Mitochondrial Connexin 43-Mediated Hypoxic Postconditioning

Cell Physiol Biochem. 2017;44(3):982-997. doi: 10.1159/000485399. Epub 2017 Nov 27.


Background/aims: Previous studies have shown that heat shock protein 90 (HSP90)-mediated mitochondrial import of connexin 43 (Cx43) is critical in preconditioning cardioprotection. The present study was designed to test whether postconditioning has the same effect as preconditioning in promoting Cx43 translocation to mitochondria and whether mitochondrial HSP90 modulates this effect.

Methods: Cellular models of hypoxic postconditioning (HPC) from rat heart-derived H9c2 cells and neonatal rat cardiomyocytes were employed. The effects of HPC on cardiomyocytes apoptosis were examined by flow cytometry and Hoechst 33342 fluorescent staining. Reactive oxidative species (ROS) production was assessed with the peroxide-sensitive fluorescent probe 2',7'-dichlorofluorescin in diacetate (DCFH-DA). The anti- and pro-apoptotic markers Bcl-2 and Bax, HSP90 and Cx43 protein levels were studied by Western blot analysis in total cell homogenate and sarcolemmal and mitochondrial fractions. The effects on HPC of the HSP90 inhibitor geldanamycin (GA), ROS scavengers superoxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase (CAT), and small interfering RNA (siRNA) targeting Cx43 and HSP90 were also investigated.

Results: HPC significantly reduced hypoxia/reoxygenation (H/R)-induced cardiomyocyte apoptosis. These beneficial effects were accompanied by an increase in Bcl-2 levels and a decrease in Bax levels in both sarcolemmal and mitochondrial fractions. HPC with siRNA targeting Cx43 or the ROS scavengers SOD plus CAT significantly prevented ROS generation and HPC cardioprotection, but HPC with either SOD or CAT did not. These data strongly supported the involvement of Cx43 in HPC cardioprotection, likely via modulation of the ROS balance which plays a central role in HPC protection. Furthermore, HPC increased total and mitochondrial levels of HSP90 and the mitochondria-to-sarcolemma ratio of Cx43; blocking the function of HSP90 with the HSP90 inhibitor geldanamycin (GA) or siRNA targeting HSP90 prevented the protection of HPC and the HPC-induced association of Cx43, indicating that mitochondrial HSP90 was important for mitochondrial translocation of Cx43 during HPC.

Conclusion: Mitochondrial HSP90 played a central role in HPC cardioprotection, and its activity was linked to the mitochondrial targeting of Cx43, the activation of which triggered ROS signaling and the subsequent reduction of redox stress. Consequently, its target gene, Bcl-2, was upregulated, and proapoptotic Bax was inhibited in the sarcolemma and mitochondria, ultimately attenuating H/R-induced cardiomyocyte apoptosis. These data reveal a novel mechanism of HPC protection.

Keywords: Apoptosis; Connexin 43; Hsp90; Hypoxic postconditioning; ROS signaling.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Benzoquinones / pharmacology
  • Catalase / pharmacology
  • Cell Hypoxia
  • Cell Line
  • Connexin 43 / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Connexin 43 / genetics
  • Connexin 43 / metabolism*
  • HSP90 Heat-Shock Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors
  • HSP90 Heat-Shock Proteins / genetics
  • HSP90 Heat-Shock Proteins / metabolism*
  • Lactams, Macrocyclic / pharmacology
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / metabolism
  • RNA Interference
  • RNA, Small Interfering / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / chemistry
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Sarcolemma / metabolism
  • Superoxide Dismutase / pharmacology
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein / metabolism


  • Benzoquinones
  • Connexin 43
  • HSP90 Heat-Shock Proteins
  • Lactams, Macrocyclic
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein
  • Catalase
  • Superoxide Dismutase
  • geldanamycin