The congenital long QT syndrome (LQTS) is a cardiac electrophysiological disorder that can cause sudden cardiac death. LQT1 is a subtype of LQTS caused by mutations in KCNQ1, affecting the slow delayed-rectifier potassium current (I Ks), which is essential for cardiac repolarization. Paradoxically, gain-of-function mutations in KCNQ1 have been reported to cause borderline QT prolongation, atrial fibrillation (AF), sinus bradycardia, and sudden death, however, the mechanisms are not well understood. The goal of the study is to investigate the ionic, cellular and tissue mechanisms underlying the complex phenotype of a gain-of-function mutation in KCNQ1, c.686G > A (p.G229D) using computer modeling and simulations informed by in vitro measurements. Previous studies have shown this mutation to cause AF and borderline QT prolongation. We report a clinical description of a family that carry this mutation and that a member of the family died suddenly during sleep at 21 years old. Using patch-clamp experiments, we confirm that KCNQ1-G229D causes a significant gain in channel function. We introduce the effect of the mutation in populations of atrial, ventricular and sinus node (SN) cell models to investigate mechanisms underlying phenotypic variability. In a population of human atrial and ventricular cell models and tissue, the presence of KCNQ1-G229D predominantly shortens atrial action potential duration (APD). However, in a subset of models, KCNQ1-G229D can act to prolong ventricular APD by up to 7% (19 ms) and underlie depolarization abnormalities, which could promote QT prolongation and conduction delays. Interestingly, APD prolongations were predominantly seen at slow pacing cycle lengths (CL > 1,000 ms), which suggests a greater arrhythmic risk during bradycardia, and is consistent with the observed sudden death during sleep. In a population of human SN cell models, the KCNQ1-G229D mutation results in slow/abnormal sinus rhythm, and we identify that a stronger L-type calcium current enables the SN to be more robust to the mutation. In conclusion, our computational modeling experiments provide novel mechanistic explanations for the observed borderline QT prolongation, and predict that KCNQ1-G229D could underlie SN dysfunction and conduction delays. The mechanisms revealed in the study can potentially inform management and treatment of KCNQ1 gain-of-function mutation carriers.
Keywords: KCNQ1; arrhythmia; computational biology; gain-of-function; long QT syndrome; sinus node.