Actin Binding GFP Allows 4D In Vivo Imaging of Myofilament Dynamics in the Zebrafish Heart and the Identification of Erbb2 Signaling as a Remodeling Factor of Myofibril ArchitectureNovelty and Significance
Rationale: Dilated cardiomyopathy is a leading cause of congestive heart failure and a debilitating complication of antineoplastic therapies. Despite disparate causes for dilated cardiomyopathy, maladaptive cardiac remodeling and decreased systolic function are common clinical consequences, begging an investigation of in vivo contractile dynamics in development and disease, one that has been impossible to date.
Objective: To image myocardial contractile filament dynamics in vivo and to assess potential causes of dilated cardiomyopathy in antineoplastic therapies targeting the epidermal growth factor receptor Erbb2.
Methods and Results: We generated a transgenic zebrafish line expressing an actin-binding green fluorescent protein in cardiomyocytes, allowing an in vivo imaging of myofilaments. Analysis of this line revealed architectural differences in myofibrils of the distinct cardiomyocyte subtypes. We used this model to investigate the effects of Erbb2 signaling on myofibrillar organization because drugs targeting ERBB2 (HER2/NEU) signaling, a mainstay of breast cancer chemotherapy, cause dilated cardiomyopathy in many patients. High-resolution in vivo imaging revealed that Erbb2 signaling regulates a switch between a dense apical network of filamentous myofibrils and the assembly of basally localized myofibrils in ventricular cardiomyocytes.
Conclusions: Using this novel line, we compiled a reference for myofibrillar microarchitecture among myocardial subtypes in vivo and at different developmental stages, establishing this model as a tool to analyze in vivo cardiomyocyte contractility and remodeling for a broad range of cardiovascular questions. Furthermore, we applied this model to study Erbb2 signaling in cardiomyopathy. We show a direct link between Erbb2 activity and remodeling of myofibrils, revealing an unexpected mechanism with potentially important implications for prevention and treatment of cardiomyopathy.
- Erbb2 protein, human
- growth & development
- heart contractility
- myocardial contraction
Heritable and acquired dilated cardiomyopathies (DCM) are the third most common cause of heart failure and the leading cause for cardiac transplant.1 Recent genomic and pharmacological studies have identified genes involved in the development of DCM; most of these genes encode components of the contractile machinery, but some encode cell surface receptors, such as members of the ERBB2/HER2 family.2–5 Studies validating these genes in animal models have started to elucidate their role in DCM.6,7 Unfortunately, models used to date are static—relying on fixation-based protocols, including immunohistochemistry and electron microscopy, or artificial cell culture—whereas contractility and remodeling are dynamic. Studying contractile physiology and remodeling in a live heart is, therefore, key to understanding cardiomyopathy.
Although these limitations apply to all recent models, the zebrafish offers the potential to image contractile structures in vivo because of the optical transparency of its embryos and larvae and its genetic tractability.8 However, this potential has not been exploited to date, in part, because of a historical lack of the appropriate transgenic reporter to image contractile structures and the lack of a clinical model for DCM. To address these limitations, we developed a novel transgenic line, Tg(myl7:LifeAct-GFP), in which filamentous actin (F-actin), a major component of sarcomeres, is labeled with green fluorescent protein (GFP). LifeAct consists of a fluorescent protein fused to a low-affinity actin-binding domain derived from Abp140, a yeast protein that lacks close homologs outside fungi. The 17 amino acids domain binds F-actin with a dissociation constant of 2.2 μmol/L, a 30-fold higher affinity for F-actin than for G-actin.9 We designed a zebrafish codon-optimized version based on the zebrafish acta1b, which according to our data are the most highly expressed actin gene in the adult zebrafish heart. One major advantage of the LifeAct system is that as a fungal derivative, it does not sequester endogenous actin-binding proteins as do the utrophin and moesin fusions, among others. Using Tg(myl7:LifeAct-GFP), we were able to image myofibrils, which principally contain F-actin in vivo and in high-resolution for the first time. We generated a reference data set of native myofibril genesis and architecture in the atrium and ventricle at different stages of development. We identified 3 myocardial subtypes according to their myofibrillar architecture. We further showed that this line, together with state-of-the-art confocal microscopy, allows high-resolution study of myofibrillar dynamics in the beating heart in 4 dimensions (4D) of space and time. We then used this tool to uncover the role of Erbb2 signaling in the development of DCM.
The 4 vertebrate members of the epidermal growth factor receptor (Egfr/ErbB) family of receptor tyrosine kinases regulate many essential processes in development and disease, including cell differentiation, proliferation, survival, adhesion, and migration.10–12 ErbB2, although incapable of binding ligands itself, plays a particularly important role as the preferred dimerization partner for the three other ligand-binding ErbB receptors.13 In disease, ERBB2/HER2 overexpression is evident in >30% of all patients with breast cancer and serves as a marker for poor prognosis and survival.14 Consequently, several breast cancer therapies target ERBB2/HER2 function.15 However, the great success of anti-ERBB2/HER2 drugs has been tempered by the unexpected and unfortunate fact that they can cause DCM, thus the need to understand the role of ERBB2/HER2 signaling in cardiomyocyte development and function better.
Loss of ErbB signaling causes widespread defects in cardiac development in mammals and zebrafish, including an absence of trabeculation.16,17 Advanced microscopy in zebrafish further revealed that Erbb2 signaling is required both for mitosis within the early myocardium and for stabilizing the basal processes that cardiomyocytes of the compact wall use to delaminate during trabeculation.18,19 ErbB signaling is also essential for adult cardiac function. Perinatal removal of ErbB2 from murine myocardium causes DCM.7 Similarly, and unfortunately, ERBB2/HER2 antagonism in the adult human heart, as occurs with anti-ERBB2/HER2 cancer therapies, also causes DCM. Seven percent of patients treated with Trastuzumab, a monoclonal antibody targeting ERBB2/HER2, develop DCM; this incidence rises to 27% when combined with the anthracycline doxorubicin.20
Inherited DCM is linked to genes encoding cytoskeletal and contractile proteins, such as cardiac actin (ACTC), troponin T type 2a (TNNT2a), α-tropomyosin (TPM1), myosin heavy chain 7 (MYH7), and others.3 Susceptibility to acquired DCM from anti-ERBB2/HER2 agents may depend on more subtle genetic differences in those same sarcomeric proteins. However, exploring a possible link between ERBB2/HER2 signaling and myofibrillar architecture in vivo has been impossible to date. To test the effects of Erbb2 signaling on cardiomyocyte myofibrils, we used our Tg(myl7:LifeAct-GFP) line to perform high-resolution in vivo imaging of myofibrils in 3D and 4D. We used erbb2 mutants, Erbb2 inhibitors, and cardiomyocyte-specific dominant-negative Erbb2 overexpression (dnErbb2) to obtain a detailed picture of the role of Erbb2 signaling on the actin cytoskeleton and myofibrils during development and in the adult.
Zebrafish Lines and DNA Constructs
LifeAct-GFP was cloned by polymerase chain reaction primer extension, with the forward primer including a zebrafish codon-optimized version of the 17aa actin-binding domain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae Abp140.9 Subsequently, LifeAct-GFP was cloned into a miniTol2 vector under the control of a myl7 or acta1b promoter element (Figure 1). Transgenesis was performed in TL background as described,21 resulting in the establishment of Tg(myl7:LifeAct-GFP)s974. A zebrafish version of a dominant-negative Erbb2 receptor (Erbb2-CD533) based on previous work22 was cloned into a dual myl7 promoter plasmid allowing the simultaneous expression of red fluorescent protein and dnErbB2 in cardiomyocytes. Transgenic animals were produced. We used erbb2 (st61)23 and Tg(myl7:nDsRed2)f2Tg.24 Zebrafish were maintained under standard conditions.
Microscopy and Image Analysis
Zebrafish larvae were mounted in low-melting agarose (GeneMate) under 2 g/L HEPES-buffered tricaine (pH 7.4) to stop cardiac contractions or 75 mg/L tricaine for movie acquisition as published.25 Stills were scanned using a Zeiss LSM 5 or 7 series confocal microscope with a W Plan-Apochromat 40×/1.0 DIC dipping objective or LD C-Apochromat 63×/1.1 W Corr objective. Movies were acquired with a Zeiss SPIM (Lightsheet Z.1) or a Zeiss spinning disc confocal system (Cell Observer SD, CSU-X1). Movies were processed using the open source program Virtual Dub and encoded in H.264 in Apple QuickTime format. Three-dimensional reconstruction was achieved using the Zeiss microscopy ZEN software. Systolic and diastolic area of wild-type and erbb2 mutant larvae was measured to estimate the contractility of the heart as fractional shortening = . For 4D rendering, a sequence of nongated 2D fluorescence time-series (100 frames/s) for every 1-μm slice of beating heart (embedded in 1.2% agarose) was obtained using a Cell Observer SD (Zeiss, CSU-X1, LD C-Apochromat 40×/1.1 W Corr). The acquired nongated time-series at various z-planes were postsynchronized using a published MATLAB program.26 An isosurface rendering (Imaris, Bitplane) was performed on selected regions of the 3D beating hearts for getting a perspective of the inner contours.
Chemical Erbb2 Inhibition and Doxorubicin Treatments
Erbb2 inhibition was achieved with PD168393 (Millipore) as previously described.27 A concentration of 100 mmol/L doxorubicin stock solution was prepared in 0.1% dimethyl sulfoxide and diluted in H2O before injection. Zebrafish larvae were transiently anesthetized in 133 mg/L tricaine during the procedure.
Expression analysis was performed using the Eco Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction System (Illumina). RNA was isolated using Trizol (Sigma). cDNA was synthesized using a random-primed First-Strand cDNA Synthesis Kit (Maxima). Data shown were compiled on 2 specimens and 1 technical replicate (total of 3). Primers were designed using PerlPrimer28 (span intron, overlap intron–exon boundary by 7bp). gapdh and kcnj3a were used for normalization (ΔΔC(t) method).
Cell Culture Experiments
Isolation and culture of primary cardiomyocytes was done as published.29 Hearts were isolated from 1-year-old fish. Cell culture dishes were coated with 1% gelatin.
Novel Transgenic LifeAct-GFP Line Allows In Vivo Imaging of Myofibrillar Architecture
Together with microtubules and intermediate filaments, actin filaments represent a major component of the eukaryotic cytoskeleton. Actin is also a main component of sarcomeres, where it localizes to the I-bands and the overlapping parts of the A-bands (Figure 1A). Although myofibrils of skeletal muscles are large and relatively resistant to fixation in zebrafish, the F-actin of the thinner myocardial myofibrils is difficult to image by fixation-based protocols. To circumvent the limitations of established protocols, we tested the recently developed LifeAct-GFP for actin imaging in vivo.
In skeletal muscle, the high actin-binding affinity of phalloidin clearly reveals the Z-, I+A and M-bands (Figure 1C). To test LifeAct-GFP, we first expressed it clonally in skeletal muscle under the acta1b promoter (Figure 1B and 1D) and imaged at 72 hours post fertilization (hpf). As in phalloidin stainings on fixed tissue, LifeAct-GFP expression in skeletal muscle well reveals sarcomeric organization (Figure 1D). LifeAct-GFP was then cloned under the pan-myocardial myl7 promoter. To test whether LifeAct-GFP expression reveals structures other than sarcomeres in cardiomyocytes, we performed transient clonal expression in a tnnt2a mutant background in which no sarcomeres are assembled.30 Confocal scans of these mutants revealed that no structures other than initially formed Z-bodies could be detected at 4 days post fertilization (dpf) even after overexposure (Online Figure I). Using the transposase-based TOL2 system, we then generated the transgenic line Tg(myl7:LifeAct-GFP). Transgenic animals express high levels of LifeAct-GFP in cardiomyocytes from ≈19 hpf to adulthood. No phenotype induced by LifeAct-GFP expression was apparent at any stage. Adult transgenic zebrafish hearts show no morphological abnormalities or signs of insufficiency (Figure 1E–1H).
Myocardial Filament Organization Changes Dramatically During Cardiac Development
In zebrafish, the primitive heart tube has formed by 20 hpf and becomes contractile shortly thereafter.31 At 2.5 dpf, some ventricular cardiomyocytes start to delaminate to form trabeculae. To obtain a detailed perspective on actin dynamics during cardiac development, we imaged the Tg(myl7:LifeAct-GFP) line starting at 20 hpf. Between 20 and 27 hpf, high-resolution imaging was restricted to the atrium because during this time the ventricle is positioned deep within the body (Figure 2).
Before the onset of cardiac contractions, LifeAct-GFP localizes to the cytoplasm and appears not to be spatially restricted within the cell. The round shape of the cardiomyocytes indicates a low level of differentiation. Sagittal confocal sections through the heart tube at 20 hpf reveal minor cortical LifeAct-GFP localization at intercellular membrane compartments, suggesting the enrichment of actin at cellular junctions but no sign of F-actin or sarcomere assembly (Figure 2A).
Only 2 hours later, after the initiation of cardiac contractions, LifeAct-GFP localization reflects the formation of myofilaments within cardiomyocytes of the atrial chamber, progressively functionalizing the cardiac tube. Intriguingly, initial myofilament assembly appears in a branched pattern forming a cell-spanning network (Figure 2B and 2B'; red arrows, individual cell outlined), whereas more mature cardiomyocytes align the vast majority of their myofibrils orthogonal to the direction of blood flow to sustain the function of the organ as a peristaltic pump. Sagittal confocal sections reveal the progressive flattening of cardiomyocytes at this stage and highly polarized LifeAct-GFP localization (Figure 2B'' and 2B'''), showing a strict localization of myofibrils to the luminal (basal) side of atrial cardiomyocytes. Cardiac looping progresses through 48 hpf, moving the ventricle to its final position. Imaging of ventricular cardiomyocytes at this stage revealed a fundamentally different mode of myofilament formation and localization. Ventricular cardiomyocytes now show high LifeAct-GFP expression exclusively at their cortical membranes (Figure 2C and 2C', individual cells outlined). In contrast to atrial cardiomyocytes, myofilaments spanning the cytoplasm could not be observed at this stage. Imaging of both chambers at 4.5 dpf revealed their mature myofibrillar architecture with a densely trabeculated ventricle and a highly organized and parallel alignment of myofibrils in the atrium (Figure 2D and 2E; Online Movie I). Together, these data suggest a divergent mode of development and function of the cardiomyocytes in the individual chambers. Atrial cardiomyocytes assemble contractile structures from an immature yet highly polarized branched network of myofilaments. In contrast, in early ventricular cardiomyocytes, filaments are mainly cortical. At later stages, the myofibrillar structures of the ventricular myocardium become more prominent but increasingly difficult to observe in detail as trabeculation expands.
Single Cell Analysis of Cardiomyocytes Reveals Subtype-Specific Myofibrillar Organization
To analyze each subpopulation of cardiomyocytes, we examined mosaic transgenics at 4.5 dpf and found that each subtype exhibits unique features with regards to myofilament organization, assembly and function. A comparison of the key architectural features of cardiomyocyte subtypes is illustrated in Figure 3.
The atrial cardiomyocytes exhibit exclusively linear myofibrils, strictly localized to their basal side. The majority of myofibrils align orthogonally to the direction of blood flow. Intriguingly, the crossing points of myofibrils within single cardiomyocytes show almost exclusively a 90° angle (Figures 2E and 3A), with little signs of the branched morphology that was dominant during early developmental stages (Figure 2B'). Furthermore, the atrial myofibrils appear to span across intercellular membranes, an illusion that is probably a result of their tight attachment to fascia adherens on both sides of intercellular membranes.
The ventricular chamber at 4.5 dpf consists of 2 clearly distinct populations of cardiomyocytes: compact wall cardiomyocytes and trabecular cardiomyocytes. Compact wall cardiomyocytes have a flat, round or polygonal, epithelial-like shape.18 Intriguingly, sequential imaging along the z-axis revealed 2 distinct actin-rich structures within these cells. Abluminal (apically), they are filled with a dense, highly branched filamentous myofibrillar network, similar to the network seen earlier in development. Basolaterally, myofibrils localize to the cell cortex, often forming a noncontinuous ring. At ≈3 dpf, compact wall cardiomyocytes start extending protrusions on their basal side.32 These protrusions are filled with cortical myofibrils but show no sign of the filamentous network (Figure 3D).
After their formation, trabeculae mature into long, tubular structures, often branched at their ends and preferentially attached to other trabeculae, forming intraventricular rings orthogonal to blood flow (Online Figure II). Numerous cortically localized myofibrils span the length of trabecular cardiomyocytes, often showing branches distally. This cortical localization leads to the encompassing of the nucleus, which is localized centrally as seen in Figure 3E.
To complement this in vivo analysis, we cultured primary cardiomyocytes and observed significant differences in terms of the density and localization of myofibrils (Online Data Supplement; Online Figure III).
Loss of ErbB2 Signaling Causes Sarcomere Remodeling in Ventricular Cardiomyocytes
Genome-wide association studies suggest a causal relationship between defects in sarcomere assembly and function and the development of DCM. To investigate the potential effects of ErbB signaling on myocardial myofilaments, we crossed an erbb2 loss-of-function allele into the Tg(myl7:LifeAct-GFP) background and performed imaging studies on ventricular wall cardiomyocytes from 3 to 4.5 dpf. Trabeculae form in wild-type but not in erbb2-deficient larvae (Figure 4, Online Movies IVc–IVd), hence we imaged actin localization in the ventricular wall. At 3 dpf, as described previously, ventricular wall cardiomyocytes form 2 distinct types of myofibrils, a highly branched network of thin myofibrils on their apical side and a cortical and discontinuous ring of thicker myofibrils on their basolateral side. In erbb2 mutants at 3 dpf, the apical network appears less prominent than in wild-type siblings; however, at the same time, mutants show an excess of myofibrils basolaterally (Figure 4A–A''). This observation is consistent with imaging data acquired from the atrium, where in mutants the density of myofibrils seems higher and the branch points present in wild-type siblings are mostly absent (data not shown), suggesting a general effect of Erbb2-mediated signaling on the architecture and localization of myofibrils in cardiomyocytes. In 4.5 dpf mutants, myofibril reorganization becomes even more prominent. The apically localized filamentous myofibrils are strongly reduced in abundance (Figure 4B' and 4B''', red arrowheads), whereas basolaterally localized myofibrils gain substantial size (Figure 4B'' and 4B''', white arrowheads) and represent the dominant type of myofibrils in ventricular wall cardiomyocytes as strikingly revealed in a maximum intensity projection of the ventricular chamber (Figure 4B) or in 4D rendered confocal movies (Online Movies IVa+IVb, IVc+IVd, and single plane high-magnification IVe+IVf). To assess how this reorganization impairs cardiac performance, we measured ventricular fractional shortening in 3 wild-type and mutant animals and found a 25% decrease in mutants (Figure 4E). Together, these results indicate that Erbb2 signaling regulates myofilament dynamics with a direct effect on cardiac performance. Wild-type ventricular wall cardiomyocytes are dominated by myofibrils of narrow diameter. Erbb2-deficient cardiomyocytes show few filamentous myofibrils, particularly at their apical domain; in contrast, they form massive myofibrils mostly at their basolateral cortex.
Chemical ErbB2 Inhibition Later in the Development Causes Myofibrillar Reorganization
To investigate the effects of Erbb2 signaling on sarcomere dynamics further, we used the compound PD168393, an alkylating agent that specifically inhibits the kinase domain of Erbb receptors.19,27 We used this compound later in development, after the ventricle had already undergone trabeculation, to eliminate potential indirect effects caused by a lack of trabeculae. Tg(myl7:LifeAct-GFP);Tg(myl7:nDsRed2) larvae were treated with 10 μmol/L PD168393 from 4.5 to 6.5 dpf and subsequently imaged (Figure 5A).
Whereas no effect could be detected in vehicle-treated larvae, inhibition of Erbb signaling had a dramatic effect on the myofibrils of both ventricular wall and trabecular cardiomyocytes. The apical filamentous network in ventricular wall cardiomyocytes (Figure 5B and B') was completely lost, replaced by solid linear myofibrils of wide diameter (Figure 5C and 5C'). Trabecular cardiomyocytes from control animals showed extensively branched myofibrils (Figure 5D). Inhibition of Erbb signaling resulted in a significant over-representation of single, nonbranched myofibrils, which filled the entire cell and caused the centered, usually round-shaped nucleus to deform into an ellipsoid shape (Figure 5E). Taken together, these results indicate that Erbb2 signaling prevents the bundling and maturation of ventricular myofibrils, possibly by destabilizing the formation of myofilament bundles and increasing actin turnover.
Long-Term Erbb2 Suppression Causes a DCM-Like Phenotype in Zebrafish and Dysregulation of Sarcomeric Components
As mentioned previously, the analysis of familial DCM cases suggests that defects in sarcomere function can cause DCM. Analysis of Erbb2 function in the adult heart however is challenging, as erbb2-/- zebrafish, like Erbb2-/- mice, die from a variety of developmental defects at early stages. Therefore, we created a transgenic zebrafish line with cardiac-specific expression of dominant-negative Erbb2 receptor (Tg(myl7:dnerbb2)) to impair Erbb2 signaling specifically in the heart. At first, we tested the effects of dnErbb2 expression on myofibrillar architecture by mosaic expression using DNA injections into fertilized eggs. Identification of cardiomyocytes expressing dnErbb2 was achieved using a plasmid with 2 myl7 promoters, one driving dnErbb2 and the other driving red fluorescent protein. We found that red fluorescent protein+ cardiomyocytes showed a significant reduction of their apical thin myofibrils and an over-representation of basolateral thick myofibrils, similar to our observation in erbb2 mutants (Figure 6A–A'', arrowheads point to cell–cell boundaries). These results also suggest a cell-autonomous function of Erbb2 in myofibril remodeling. We next analyzed transgenic fish, which we found to develop pericardial edema by ≈1 month post fertilization (Figure 6B and 6C), exhibiting high lethality afterward. We were able to raise 3 F1 fish with stable cardiac expression through 2 months. After euthanizing these fish, we found that their hearts exhibited a significantly dilated ventricle with sparse trabeculae (Figure 6D–6G). Using quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction, we tested the expression level of DCM-associated genes and found several of them to be consistently and severely misregulated in transgenic versus control hearts (Figure 6H). Intriguingly, most of the genes were upregulated rather than downregulated. These genes include acta2, tcap, pdlim3a, and vmhc, the zebrafish orthologue of MYH7, which was highly upregulated. This upregulation is consistent with the larval erbb2−/− phenotype, which includes thicker myofibrils.
Doxorubicin Dismantles Myofibrils in a Dose-Dependent Manner, Most Severely of the Filamentous Type
Doxorubicin, a drug commonly used as an adjuvant chemotherapy for ERBB2/HER2-positive patients with breast cancer, has been reported to disrupt myocardial sarcomere structure by a Calpain-dependent mechanism.33,34 Also, anti-ERBB2 therapies are much more likely to cause DCM when those therapies are combined with doxorubicin.20 To determine the effects of doxorubicin on cardiomyocyte myofibrils in vivo, we injected different concentrations into the pericardial cavity and performed confocal imaging 1, 2, and 3 days post injection (Figure 7). We observed a strong, dose-dependent effect of doxorubicin on overall myofibril integrity and function. Intrapericardial injections of 1 pL (4 mmol/L) doxorubicin were sufficient to cause pericardial edema and a pronounced decrease of detectable myofilaments in all myocardial subtypes (Figure 7B and B'’; Online Movies Va and Vb), most significantly in ventricular wall cardiomyocytes (Figure 7A and 7B). In these cells, the thin apically localized myofibrils were strongly affected. Because both, the reduction of Erbb2 signaling and doxorubicin exposure, have direct effects on myocardial sarcomeres, these data offer a mechanistic explanation for the increased incidence of acquired DCM in patients treated with both anti-ERBB2 therapy and doxorubicin when compared with anti-ERBB2 therapy alone.
Current studies of cardiomyopathy are widely based on immunohistochemistry, histology, and electron microscopy from fixed animal or human samples, or cultured cardiomyocytes. A model to investigate myocardial function and remodeling in vivo has been conspicuously lacking. The zebrafish, with its distinct transparency for imaging, has been a useful model for in vivo cardiac development studies but historically has been less explored to address subcellular events in cardiomyopathy. In this work, we established a novel transgenic zebrafish line that allows detailed analysis of cardiomyocyte myofilament architecture and actin dynamics during development and in disease models in vivo for the first time. The simplicity of the LifeAct system, as well as the reference data set compiled in this study, will help researchers resolve a variety of questions about cardiac development and pathology. The LifeAct system in this study was used in form of a GFP fusion. From our experience testing LifeAct with mCherry and blue fluorescent protein, we expect it to work with any monomeric fluorescent protein. A limitation of low-affinity tags, such as LifeAct, is their unsuitableness for Fluorescence Recovery after Photobleaching experiments as the constant binding and release of the LifeAct-tag to F-Actin leads to unrealistically fast recovery.
To characterize this transgenic line, we used the sarcomere-deficient cardiac troponin T mutant to show that LifeAct-GFP expression most clearly labels cytoskeletal actin and myofibrils (Online Figure I). Using high-resolution imaging, we showed for the first time that myofibrils in different myocardial subtypes exhibit a highly distinct architecture that relates to their physiological function. Atrial myofibrils are exclusively localized to the basal domain. They develop from an initially highly branched network of myofilaments that subsequently gets refined to nonbranched linear myofibrils that mostly orient orthogonal to the direction of blood flow. How this refinement and orientation of myofibrils is achieved on a mechanistic level remains unclear and will need further attention in future studies. The orientation of myofibrils is maintained across intercalated discs, literally forming rings of myofibrils that allow the atrium to act as a peristaltic pump pushing the blood into the ventricle. Like the atrium, the ventricle initially forms as a single-layered chamber. The architecture of the myofibrils in compact wall cardiomyocytes, however, differs entirely from that in atrial cardiomyocytes. Compact wall cardiomyocytes start with a ring of thin myofibrils on their basolateral cortex and later develop a highly branched network of filamentous myofibrils in their apical domain that span the entirety of the area. Thicker myofibrils can only be found in the cortex of the basolateral domain, forming ring-like arrangements within each cardiomyocyte. Continuous myofibrillar arrangements across intercalated discs are absent, suggesting an entirely different mode of contraction in the early ventricle when compared with the atrium; the ventricle contracts by a reduction in the area of each cardiomyocyte and consequently the contraction of the entire chamber causing a reduction in lumen volume. A third myocardial cell type, trabecular cardiomyocytes, develops from cardiomyocytes of the ventricular wall by first forming basal protrusions, which are immediately filled with cortically localized thick myofibrils. Eventually, some cardiomyocytes leave the wall and differentiate into tube-like trabecular cells, which together form ring-like structures (trabeculae) on the inner surface of the ventricle. Each trabecular cardiomyocyte contains several long myofibrils that branch at the ends to connect to myofibrils of neighboring trabecular cells via intercalated discs. The arrangement of the trabecular rings is stereotypically orthogonal to the direction of blood flow from the ventricle. This detailed picture of organ-wide myofibril architecture facilitated the analysis of cardiomyopathies and allowed us to revisit questions about the relationship between anti-ERBB2/HER2 cancer therapies and DCM in previously unachievable resolution.
Because anti-ERBB2/HER2 drugs used to treat breast cancer can cause DCM in humans, we analyzed zebrafish erbb2 mutants in the Tg(myl7:LifeAct-GFP) background as a model for loss of Erbb2 signaling in cardiomyocytes. Our analysis revealed that mutant ventricular wall cardiomyocytes had an increase in cortically located myofibril width and a reduction in apically located filamentous myofibrils. To test whether this effect is a consequence of prolonged absence of Erbb2 signaling, we used a conditional system of chemical Erbb2 inhibition (PD168393) 2 days after trabeculation had started. Here, Erbb2 inhibition for 48 hours caused an increase in the diameter of the basolateral myofibrils. A similar effect was observed in trabecular cardiomyocytes. The diameter of their myofibrils increased to an extent that the centrally located, usually spheroid nuclei were forced into an ellipsoid shape by the surrounding myofibrils. We next asked whether the observed remodeling was cell-autonomous. We performed clonal analysis of dnErbb2 expression within wild-type hearts and obtained the same results as observed in constitutive loss of Erbb2 signaling. We further found that long-term inhibition of Erbb2 signaling by expressing dnErbb2 under the myl7 promoter caused DCM in zebrafish, a phenotype also reported in mouse.7 We performed gene expression analysis in these transgenic hearts and found upregulation of DCM-associated genes, including acta2, vinculin, tcap, and vmhc, which encode components of the contractile machinery. Although the sample number was small because of high lethality, we found a clear dysregulation within this set of genes that was consistent with the myofibrillar phenotype found in erbb2 mutants. Together, these data suggest that the link between decreased Erbb2 signaling and DCM is not only about cell survival, as previously reported,35 but also about direct action on myofibril remodeling.
Finally, our studies suggest that the increased incidence of acquired DCM in patients treated with both anti-ERBB2 therapies and doxorubicin may be because both drugs have direct effects on myofibril remodeling. In patients, sequential treatment with doxorubicin and ERBB2/HER2 antagonists synergistically promotes the development of DCM. Previous studies on cultured cardiomyocytes suggest a direct effect of doxorubicin on myofibrils assembly and maintenance.33,34 We studied the effect of doxorubicin on cardiomyocytes in vivo and observed a dose-dependent effect on myofibrillar stability. Pericardial injections of 1 pL (4 mmol/L) doxorubicin completely ablated apical myofibrils of the thin type, the same type positively regulated by Erbb2 signaling. It is interesting to note that doxorubicin, implicated more often in irreversible type I chemo-associated DCM, ablated these myofibrils, whereas loss of Erbb2 signaling, more often seen with reversible type 2 chemo-associated DCM, reorganized myofibrils of the same type.
Taken together, our data show that both doxorubicin and Erbb2 inhibition independently affect the integrity and architecture of myofibrils. Intriguingly, ErbB2 signaling acts as a negative regulator of myofilament bundling and a promoter of thinner filamentous myofibrils. We speculate that it is these roles that cause the synergistically negative side effect of sequential doxorubicin and anti-ERBB2/HER2 therapy in which myofibrillar disarray caused by doxorubicin cannot be repaired during the phase of ERBB2/HER2 inhibition as myofibril and actin dynamics are reduced. Given our observations, we suggest that patients with breast cancer receiving an anti-ERBB2/HER2, doxorubicin, or combination therapy who develop DCM should be tested for variants that are genetically linked to familial cases of DCM so that we can learn more about the potential correlation of these variants with the development of therapy-induced DCM.
Additional studies using our model in adults may investigate how Erbb2 acts on myofibril stability and sarcomere dynamics to identify mechanisms for other potential DCM therapies, as well as reveal other drugs likely to cause DCM. For example, a pharmacological screen on Tg(myl7:LifeAct-GFP) zebrafish carrying the dnErbb2 transgene might identify new pharmacological therapies for DCM. Several assays of adult zebrafish cardiac function, including systolic function, cardiac output, and response to exercise, could complement myofibril assessment using LifeAct-GFP. In addition, adult Tg(myl7:LifeAct-GFP) zebrafish can be used to test potential drugs for cardiotoxicity and their effects on the cytoskeleton, either as a source for cultured cardiomyocytes or by direct imaging of fixed or freshly explanted hearts.
We acknowledge Bilge Reischauer, Oliver Stone, and Marion Delous for helpful discussions and critical feedback on the article and thank Zacharias Kontarakis for help with some of the experiments.
Sources of Funding
This work was supported by fellowships from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft and American Heart Association (S. Reischauer), the National Institutes of Health (NIH; F32HL110489) and Sarnoff Cardiovascular Research Foundation (R. Arnaout), and grants from the NIH (RO1HL54737), the Packard Foundation and the Max Planck Society (D.Y.R. Stainier).
In August, 2014, the average time from submission to first decision for all original research papers submitted to Circulation Research was 13.55 days.
The online-only Data Supplement is available with this article at http://circres.ahajournals.org/lookup/suppl/doi:10.1161/CIRCRESAHA.115.304356/-/DC1.
- Nonstandard Abbreviations and Acronyms
- dilated cardiomyopathy
- days post fertilization
- filamentous actin
- green fluorescent protein
- hours post fertilization
- Received May 9, 2014.
- Revision received September 12, 2014.
- Accepted September 15, 2014.
- © 2014 American Heart Association, Inc.
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Novelty and Significance
What Is Known?
The zebrafish model system offers optical transparency and external development combined with genetic tractability to study cardiac development, function, and disease in a vertebrate model in vivo.
In contrast to direct tagging, fusions of affinity domains (eg, LifeAct) to fluorescent proteins allow direct imaging of subcellular localization of the target protein (eg, F-Actin) without interfering with an overall function.
Antineoplastic therapies, such as doxorubicin and ERBB2/HER2 antagonists, induce dilated cardiomyopathy with high incidence.
What New Information Does This Article Contribute?
A novel transgenic zebrafish line, which allows direct in vivo imaging of the sarcomere superstructure in high and low magnification and, therefore, greatly facilitates the analysis of myofibrillar phenotypes in development and disease without fixation artifacts.
A comprehensive reference data set on myofibril development in different myocardial subtypes based on in vivo imaging.
A detailed analysis of the effect of impaired Erbb2 signaling on myofibrillar architecture and localization, as well as the effect of doxorubicin treatment on myofibrillar integrity in vivo.
Myofibrillogenesis, myofibril contractility, and myofibril remodeling are dynamic processes and dysfunctions in these processes are associated with cardiac diseases, such as dilated cardiomyopathy. As yet, no tools are available for visualizing these processes at high resolution in vivo. The novel zebrafish transgenic line Tg(myl7:LifeAct-GFP) allowed visualization of myofibril organization in developing cardiomyocytes and in larval and adult zebrafish models of dilated cardiomyopathy. Myofibril architecture and organization were found to change dramatically as the heart developed and were found to vary by myocardial subtype. Suppression of the ERBB2 signaling pathway caused reorganization of ventricular myofibrils and cardiac dysfunction, whereas doxorubicin treatment led to the dismantling of myofibrils. These data show, a direct, cell-autonomous and highly specific effect of Erbb2 function on myofibril architecture and remodeling and provide a mechanistic explanation for the additive cardiotoxicity of doxorubicin and anti-ERBB2/HER2 inhibitors are used together. The Tg(myl7:LifeAct-GFP) zebrafish line serves as a new tool to investigate changes in contractile dynamics in response to a broad range of genetic mutations and pharmacological treatments. Clinically, this tool could be adapted to screen for new pharmacological therapies for dilated cardiomyopathy, as well as to identify drugs with cardiotoxic side effects.