In vivo visualization and molecular targeting of the cardiac conduction system

J Clin Invest. 2022 Oct 17;132(20):e156955. doi: 10.1172/JCI156955.


Accidental injury to the cardiac conduction system (CCS), a network of specialized cells embedded within the heart and indistinguishable from the surrounding heart muscle tissue, is a major complication in cardiac surgeries. Here, we addressed this unmet need by engineering targeted antibody-dye conjugates directed against the CCS, allowing for the visualization of the CCS in vivo following a single intravenous injection in mice. These optical imaging tools showed high sensitivity, specificity, and resolution, with no adverse effects on CCS function. Further, with the goal of creating a viable prototype for human use, we generated a fully human monoclonal Fab that similarly targets the CCS with high specificity. We demonstrate that, when conjugated to an alternative cargo, this Fab can also be used to modulate CCS biology in vivo, providing a proof of principle for targeted cardiac therapeutics. Finally, in performing differential gene expression analyses of the entire murine CCS at single-cell resolution, we uncovered and validated a suite of additional cell surface markers that can be used to molecularly target the distinct subcomponents of the CCS, each prone to distinct life-threatening arrhythmias. These findings lay the foundation for translational approaches targeting the CCS for visualization and therapy in cardiothoracic surgery, cardiac imaging, and arrhythmia management.

Keywords: Arrhythmias; Cardiology; Cardiovascular disease; Diagnostic imaging.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac / genetics
  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac / metabolism
  • Heart / physiology
  • Heart Conduction System* / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy*
  • Myocardium