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J Mol Cell Cardiol. 2008 Mar;44(3):597-606. doi: 10.1016/j.yjmcc.2007.11.013. Epub 2007 Dec 7.

N-cadherin haploinsufficiency affects cardiac gap junctions and arrhythmic susceptibility.

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


Cardiac-specific deletion of the murine gene (Cdh2) encoding the cell adhesion molecule, N-cadherin, results in disassembly of the intercalated disc (ICD) structure and sudden arrhythmic death. Connexin 43 (Cx43)-containing gap junctions are significantly reduced in the heart after depleting N-cadherin, therefore we hypothesized that animals expressing half the normal levels of N-cadherin would exhibit an intermediate phenotype. We examined the effect of N-cadherin haploinsufficiency on Cx43 expression and susceptibility to induced arrhythmias in mice either wild-type or heterozygous for the Cx43 (Gja1)-null allele. An increase in hypophosphorylated Cx43 accompanied by a modest decrease in total Cx43 protein levels was observed in the N-cadherin heterozygous mice. Consistent with these findings N-cadherin heterozygotes exhibited increased susceptibility to ventricular arrhythmias compared to wild-type mice. Quantitative immunofluorescence microscopy revealed a reduction in size of large Cx43-containing plaques in the N-cadherin heterozygous animals compared to wild-type. Gap junctions were further decreased in number and size in the N-cad/Cx43 compound heterozygous mice with increased arrhythmic susceptibility compared to the single mutants. The scaffold protein, ZO-1, was reduced at the ICD in N-cadherin heterozygous cardiomyocytes providing a possible explanation for the reduction in Cx43 plaque size. These data provide further support for the intimate relationship between N-cadherin and Cx43 in the heart, and suggest that germline mutations in the human N-cadherin (Cdh2) gene may predispose patients to increased risk of cardiac arrhythmias.

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