Background: Inherited forms of sinus node dysfunction (SND) clinically include bradycardia, sinus arrest, and chronotropic incompetence and may serve as disease models to understand sinus node physiology and impulse generation. Recently, a gain-of-function mutation in the G-protein gene GNB2 led to enhanced activation of the GIRK (G-protein activated inwardly rectifying K+ channel). Thus, human cardiac GIRK channels are important for heart rate regulation and subsequently, genes encoding their subunits Kir3.1 and Kir3.4 ( KCNJ3 and KCNJ5) are potential candidates for inherited SND in human.
Methods: We performed a combined approach of targeted sequencing of KCNJ3 and KCNJ5 in 52 patients with idiopathic SND and subsequent whole exome sequencing of additional family members in a genetically affected patient. A putative novel disease-associated gene variant was functionally analyzed by voltage-clamp experiments using various heterologous cell expression systems (Xenopus oocytes, CHO cells, and rat atrial cardiomyocytes).
Results: In a 3-generation family with SND we identified a novel variant in KCNJ5 which leads to an amino acid substitution (p.Trp101Cys) in the first transmembrane domain of the Kir3.4 subunit of the cardiac GIRK channel. The identified variant cosegregated with the disease in the family and was absent in the Exome Variant Server and Exome Aggregation Consortium databases. Expression of mutant Kir3.4 (±native Kir3.1) in different heterologous cell expression systems resulted in increased GIRK currents ( IK,ACh) and a reduced inward rectification which was not compensated by intracellular spermidine. Moreover, in silico modeling of heterotetrameric mutant GIRK channels indicates a structurally altered binding site for spermine.
Conclusions: For the first time, an inherited gain-of-function mutation in the human GIRK3.4 causes familial human SND. The increased activity of GIRK channels is likely to lead to a sustained hyperpolarization of pacemaker cells and thereby reduces heart rate. Modulation of human GIRK channels may pave a way for further treatment of cardiac pacemaking.
Keywords: GIRK; KCNJ5; bradycardia; channelopathies; mutation; sick sinus syndrome; whole exome sequencing.