Circulating GDF11 exacerbates myocardial injury in mice and associates with increased infarct size in humans

Cardiovasc Res. 2023 Dec 30;119(17):2729-2742. doi: 10.1093/cvr/cvad153.


Aims: The heart rejuvenating effects of circulating growth differentiation factor 11 (GDF11), a transforming growth factor-β superfamily member that shares 90% homology with myostatin (MSTN), remains controversial. Here, we aimed to probe the role of GDF11 in acute myocardial infarction (MI), a frequent cause of heart failure and premature death during ageing.

Methods and results: In contrast to endogenous Mstn, myocardial Gdf11 declined during the course of ageing and was particularly reduced following ischaemia/reperfusion (I/R) injury, suggesting a therapeutic potential of GDF11 signalling in MI. Unexpectedly, boosting systemic Gdf11 by recombinant GDF11 delivery (0.1 mg/kg body weight over 30 days) prior to myocardial I/R augmented myocardial infarct size in C57BL/6 mice irrespective of their age, predominantly by accelerating pro-apoptotic signalling. While intrinsic cardioprotective signalling pathways remained unaffected by high circulating GDF11, targeted transcriptomics and immunomapping studies focusing on GDF11-associated downstream targets revealed attenuated Nkx2-5 expression confined to CD105-expressing cells, with pro-apoptotic activity, as assessed by caspase-3 levels, being particularly pronounced in adjacent cells, suggesting an indirect effect. By harnessing a highly specific and validated liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry-based assay, we show that in prospectively recruited patients with MI circulating GDF11 but not MSTN levels incline with age. Moreover, GDF11 levels were particularly elevated in those at high risk for adverse outcomes following the acute event, with circulating GDF11 emerging as an independent predictor of myocardial infarct size, as estimated by standardized peak creatine kinase-MB levels.

Conclusion: Our data challenge the initially reported heart rejuvenating effects of circulating GDF11 and suggest that high levels of systemic GDF11 exacerbate myocardial injury in mice and humans alike. Persistently high GDF11 levels during ageing may contribute to the age-dependent loss of cardioprotective mechanisms and thus poor outcomes of elderly patients following acute MI.

Keywords: Acute myocardial infarction; Ageing; Biomarker discovery; GDF11; Proteomics; Risk prediction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Bone Morphogenetic Proteins
  • Growth Differentiation Factors* / genetics
  • Growth Differentiation Factors* / metabolism
  • Heart
  • Heart Injuries* / complications
  • Heart Injuries* / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Myocardial Infarction* / complications
  • Myocardial Infarction* / metabolism


  • Bone Morphogenetic Proteins
  • GDF11 protein, human
  • Gdf11 protein, mouse
  • Growth Differentiation Factors