Background: Current differentiation protocols to produce cardiomyocytes from human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) are capable of generating highly pure cardiomyocyte populations as determined by expression of cardiac troponin T. However, these cardiomyocytes remain immature, more closely resembling the fetal state, with a lower maximum contractile force, slower upstroke velocity, and immature mitochondrial function compared with adult cardiomyocytes. Immaturity of iPSC-derived cardiomyocytes may be a significant barrier to clinical translation of cardiomyocyte cell therapies for heart disease. During development, cardiomyocytes undergo a shift from a proliferative state in the fetus to a more mature but quiescent state after birth. The mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR)-signaling pathway plays a key role in nutrient sensing and growth. We hypothesized that transient inhibition of the mTOR-signaling pathway could lead cardiomyocytes to a quiescent state and enhance cardiomyocyte maturation.
Methods: Cardiomyocytes were differentiated from 3 human iPSC lines using small molecules to modulate the Wnt pathway. Torin1 (0 to 200 nmol/L) was used to inhibit the mTOR pathway at various time points. We quantified contractile, metabolic, and electrophysiological properties of matured iPSC-derived cardiomyocytes. We utilized the small molecule inhibitor, pifithrin-α, to inhibit p53 signaling, and nutlin-3a, a small molecule inhibitor of MDM2 (mouse double minute 2 homolog) to upregulate and increase activation of p53.
Results: Torin1 (200 nmol/L) increased the percentage of quiescent cells (G0 phase) from 24% to 48% compared with vehicle control (P<0.05). Torin1 significantly increased expression of selected sarcomere proteins (including TNNI3 [troponin I, cardiac muscle]) and ion channels (including Kir2.1) in a dose-dependent manner when Torin1 was initiated after onset of cardiomyocyte beating. Torin1-treated cells had an increased relative maximum force of contraction, increased maximum oxygen consumption rate, decreased peak rise time, and increased downstroke velocity. Torin1 treatment increased protein expression of p53, and these effects were inhibited by pifithrin-α. In contrast, nutlin-3a independently upregulated p53, led to an increase in TNNI3 expression and worked synergistically with Torin1 to further increase expression of both p53 and TNNI3.
Conclusions: Transient treatment of human iPSC-derived cardiomyocytes with Torin1 shifts cells to a quiescent state and enhances cardiomyocyte maturity.
Keywords: MTOR protein; induced pluripotent stem cells; myocytes, cardiac; stem cells; troponin I.