Neonatal Murine Engineered Cardiac Tissue Toxicology Model: Impact of Metallothionein Overexpression on Cadmium-Induced Injury

Toxicol Sci. 2018 Oct 1;165(2):499-511. doi: 10.1093/toxsci/kfy177.


Engineered cardiac tissues (ECTs) serve as robust in vitro models to study human cardiac diseases including cardiac toxicity assays due to rapid structural and functional maturation and the ability to vary ECT composition. Metallothionein (MT) has been shown to be cardioprotective for environmental toxicants including heavy metals. To date, studies on the role of cardiomyocyte (CM)-specific MT expression and function have occurred in dissociated single cell assays or expensive in vivo small animal models. Therefore, we generated 3D ECTs using neonatal mouse ventricular cells from wild-type (WT) and the CM-specific overexpressing MT-transgenic (MT-TG) to determine the effect of MT overexpression on ECT maturation and function. Because Cadmium (Cd) is an environmentally prevalent heavy metal toxicant with direct negative impact on cardiac structure and function, we then determined the effect of MT overexpression to reduce Cd mediated CM toxicity within ECTs. We found: (1) structural and functional maturation was similar in WT and MT-TG ECTs; (2) Cd exposure negatively impacted ECT cell survival, maturation, and function; and (3) MT-ECTs showed reduced Cd toxicity as defined by reduced cleaved caspase 3, reduced Bax/Bcl2 ratio, reduced TdT-mediated dUTP nick-end labeling positive cells, reduced CM loss after Cd treatment, and delayed onset of cardiac dysfunction after Cd treatment. Thus, neonatal murine ECTs can serve as a robust in vitro model for heavy metal toxicity screening and as a platform to evaluate the role cardioprotective mechanisms, such as the MT-TG model, on environmentally relevant toxicants.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Cadmium / toxicity*
  • Cardiomyopathies / chemically induced
  • Cardiomyopathies / metabolism*
  • Cardiomyopathies / pathology
  • Heart Ventricles / drug effects
  • Heart Ventricles / metabolism*
  • Heart Ventricles / pathology
  • Metallothionein / genetics
  • Metallothionein / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Models, Biological*
  • Myocytes, Cardiac / drug effects*
  • Myocytes, Cardiac / metabolism
  • Myocytes, Cardiac / pathology
  • Tissue Engineering
  • Transgenes


  • Cadmium
  • Metallothionein