Cardiomyocyte maturation alters molecular stress response capacities and determines cell survival upon mitochondrial dysfunction

Free Radic Biol Med. 2024 Mar:213:248-265. doi: 10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2024.01.034. Epub 2024 Jan 22.


Cardiomyocyte maturation during pre- and postnatal development requires multiple intertwined processes, including a switch in energy generation from glucose utilization in the embryonic heart towards fatty acid oxidation after birth. This is accompanied by a boost in mitochondrial mass to increase capacities for oxidative phosphorylation and ATP generation required for efficient contraction. Whether cardiomyocyte differentiation is paralleled by augmented capacities to deal with reactive oxygen species (ROS), physiological byproducts of the mitochondrial electron transport chain (ETC), is less clear. Here we show that expression of genes and proteins involved in redox homeostasis and protein quality control within mitochondria increases after birth in the mouse and human heart. Using primary embryonic, neonatal and adult mouse cardiomyocytes in vitro we investigated how excessive ROS production induced by mitochondrial dysfunction affects cell survival and stress response at different stages of maturation. Embryonic and neonatal cardiomyocytes largely tolerate inhibition of ETC complex III by antimycin A (AMA) as well as ATP synthase (complex V) by oligomycin but are susceptible to complex I inhibition by rotenone. All three inhibitors alter the intracellular distribution and ultrastructure of mitochondria in neonatal cardiomyocytes. In contrast, adult cardiomyocytes treated with AMA undergo rapid morphological changes and cellular disintegration. At the molecular level embryonic cardiomyocytes activate antioxidative defense mechanisms, the integrated stress response (ISR) and ER stress but not the mitochondrial unfolded protein response upon complex III inhibition. In contrast, adult cardiomyocytes fail to activate the ISR and antioxidative proteins following AMA treatment. In conclusion, our results identified fundamental differences in cell survival and stress response in differentiated compared to immature cardiomyocytes subjected to mitochondrial dysfunction. The high stress tolerance of immature cardiomyocytes might allow outlasting unfavorable intrauterine conditions thereby preventing fetal or perinatal heart disease and may contribute to the regenerative capacity of the embryonic and neonatal mammalian heart.

Keywords: Cardiomyocyte differentiation; Cardiomyocyte survival; Cellular stress response; Mitochondrial dysfunction; Oxidative stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphate / metabolism
  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Antioxidants / metabolism
  • Cell Survival
  • Electron Transport Complex III / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Mammals / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mitochondrial Diseases* / metabolism
  • Myocytes, Cardiac* / metabolism
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism


  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Electron Transport Complex III
  • Antioxidants
  • Adenosine Triphosphate