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Circ Res. 2005 Feb 18;96(3):346-54. Epub 2005 Jan 20.

Induced deletion of the N-cadherin gene in the heart leads to dissolution of the intercalated disc structure.

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Center for Research on Reproduction and Women's Health, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, Pa 19104, USA.


The structural integrity of the heart is maintained by the end-to-end connection between the myocytes called the intercalated disc. The intercalated disc contains different junctional complexes that enable the myocardium to function as a syncytium. One of the junctional complexes, the zonula adherens or adherens junction, consists of the cell adhesion molecule, N-cadherin, which mediates strong homophilic cell-cell adhesion via linkage to the actin cytoskeleton. To determine the function of N-cadherin in the working myocardium, we generated a conditional knockout containing loxP sites flanking exon 1 of the N-cadherin (Cdh2) gene. Using a cardiac-specific tamoxifen-inducible Cre transgene, N-cadherin was deleted in the adult myocardium. Loss of N-cadherin resulted in disassembly of the intercalated disc structure, including adherens junctions and desmosomes. The mutant mice exhibited modest dilated cardiomyopathy and impaired cardiac function, with most animals dying within two months after tamoxifen administration. Decreased sarcomere length and increased Z-line thickness were observed in the mutant hearts consistent with loss of muscle tension because N-cadherin was no longer available to anchor myofibrils at the plasma membrane. Ambulatory electrocardiogram monitoring captured the abrupt onset of spontaneous ventricular tachycardia, confirming that the deaths were arrhythmic in nature. A significant decrease in the gap junction protein, connexin 43, was observed in the N-cadherin-depleted hearts. This animal model provides the first demonstration of the hierarchical relationship of the structural components of the intercalated disc in the working myocardium, thus establishing N-cadherin's paramount importance in maintaining the structural integrity of the heart.

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