Background: Myocardial infarction (MI) is among the leading causes of death worldwide. Following MI, necrotic cardiomyocytes are replaced by a stiff collagen-rich scar. Compared to collagen, the extracellular matrix protein elastin has high elasticity and may have more favorable properties within the cardiac scar. We sought to improve post-MI healing by introducing tropoelastin, the soluble subunit of elastin, to alter scar mechanics early after MI.
Methods and results: We developed an ultrasound-guided direct intramyocardial injection method to administer tropoelastin directly into the left ventricular anterior wall of rats subjected to induced MI. Experimental groups included shams and infarcted rats injected with either PBS vehicle control or tropoelastin. Compared to vehicle treated controls, echocardiography assessments showed tropoelastin significantly improved left ventricular ejection fraction (64.7±4.4% versus 46.0±3.1% control) and reduced left ventricular dyssynchrony (11.4±3.5 ms versus 31.1±5.8 ms control) 28 days post-MI. Additionally, tropoelastin reduced post-MI scar size (8.9±1.5% versus 20.9±2.7% control) and increased scar elastin (22±5.8% versus 6.2±1.5% control) as determined by histological assessments. RNA sequencing (RNAseq) analyses of rat infarcts showed that tropoelastin injection increased genes associated with elastic fiber formation 7 days post-MI and reduced genes associated with immune response 11 days post-MI. To show translational relevance, we performed immunohistochemical analyses on human ischemic heart disease cardiac samples and showed an increase in tropoelastin within fibrotic areas. Using RNA-seq we also demonstrated the tropoelastin gene ELN is upregulated in human ischemic heart disease and during human cardiac fibroblast-myofibroblast differentiation. Furthermore, we showed by immunocytochemistry that human cardiac fibroblast synthesize increased elastin in direct response to tropoelastin treatment.
Conclusions: We demonstrate for the first time that purified human tropoelastin can significantly repair the infarcted heart in a rodent model of MI and that human cardiac fibroblast synthesize elastin. Since human cardiac fibroblasts are primarily responsible for post-MI scar synthesis, our findings suggest exciting future clinical translation options designed to therapeutically manipulate this synthesis.
Keywords: collagen; echocardiography; elastin; heart; myocardial infarction; therapeutics; tropoelastin.