Exercise triggers CAPN1-mediated AIF truncation, inducing myocyte cell death in arrhythmogenic cardiomyopathy

Sci Transl Med. 2021 Feb 17;13(581):eabf0891. doi: 10.1126/scitranslmed.abf0891.


Myocyte death occurs in many inherited and acquired cardiomyopathies, including arrhythmogenic cardiomyopathy (ACM), a genetic heart disease plagued by the prevalence of sudden cardiac death. Individuals with ACM and harboring pathogenic desmosomal variants, such as desmoglein-2 (DSG2), often show myocyte necrosis with progression to exercise-associated heart failure. Here, we showed that homozygous Dsg2 mutant mice (Dsg2 mut/mut), a model of ACM, die prematurely during swimming and display myocardial dysfunction and necrosis. We detected calcium (Ca2+) overload in Dsg2 mut/mut hearts, which induced calpain-1 (CAPN1) activation, association of CAPN1 with mitochondria, and CAPN1-induced cleavage of mitochondrial-bound apoptosis-inducing factor (AIF). Cleaved AIF translocated to the myocyte nucleus triggering large-scale DNA fragmentation and cell death, an effect potentiated by mitochondrial-driven AIF oxidation. Posttranslational oxidation of AIF cysteine residues was due, in part, to a depleted mitochondrial thioredoxin-2 redox system. Hearts from exercised Dsg2 mut/mut mice were depleted of calpastatin (CAST), an endogenous CAPN1 inhibitor, and overexpressing CAST in myocytes protected against Ca2+ overload-induced necrosis. When cardiomyocytes differentiated from Dsg2 mut/mut embryonic stem cells (ES-CMs) were challenged with β-adrenergic stimulation, CAPN1 inhibition attenuated CAPN1-induced AIF truncation. In addition, pretreatment of Dsg2 mut/mut ES-CMs with an AIF-mimetic peptide, mirroring the cyclophilin-A (PPIA) binding site of AIF, blocked PPIA-mediated AIF-nuclear translocation, and reduced both apoptosis and necrosis. Thus, preventing CAPN1-induced AIF-truncation or barring binding of AIF to the nuclear chaperone, PPIA, may avert myocyte death and, ultimately, disease progression to heart failure in ACM and likely other forms of cardiomyopathies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis Inducing Factor* / metabolism
  • Calpain* / metabolism
  • Cardiomyopathies* / metabolism
  • Cell Death
  • Mice
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Myocytes, Cardiac / metabolism
  • Myocytes, Cardiac / pathology*
  • Physical Conditioning, Animal*


  • Apoptosis Inducing Factor
  • Calpain
  • Capn1 protein, mouse