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Europace. 2012 Nov;14 Suppl 5:v40-v49. doi: 10.1093/europace/eus269.

Genetic engineering of somatic cells to study and improve cardiac function.

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  • 1Department of Biomedical Engineering, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708, USA.

Abstract

AIMS:

To demonstrate the utility of genetically engineered excitable cells for studies of basic electrophysiology and cardiac cell therapy.

METHODS AND RESULTS:

'Zig-zag' networks of neonatal rat ventricular myocytes (NRVMs) were micropatterned onto thin elastomeric films to mimic the slow action potential (AP) conduction found in fibrotic myocardium. Addition of genetically engineered excitable human embryonic kidney cells (HEK-293 cells) ('Ex-293' cells stably expressing Kir2.1, Na(v)1.5, and Cx43 channels) increased both cardiac conduction velocity by 370% and twitch force amplitude by 64%. Furthermore, we stably expressed mutant Na(v)1.5 [A1924T (fast sodium channel mutant (substitution of alanine by threonine at amino acid 1924)] channels with hyperpolarized steady-state activation and showed that, despite a 71.6% reduction in peak I(Na), these cells propagated APs at the same velocity as the wild-type Na(v)1.5-expressing Ex-293 cells. Stable expression of Ca(v)3.3 (T-type voltage-gated calcium) channels in Ex-293 cells (to generate an 'ExCa-293' line) significantly increased their AP duration and reduced repolarization gradients in cocultures of these cells and NRVMs. Additional expression of an optogenetic construct [ChIEF (light-gated Channelrhodopsin mutant)]enabled light-based control of AP firing in ExCa-293 cells.

CONCLUSION:

We show that, despite being non-contractile, genetically engineered excitable cells can significantly improve both electrical and mechanical function of engineered cardiac tissues in vitro. We further demonstrate the utility of engineered cells for tissue-level studies of basic electrophysiology and cardiac channelopathies. In the future, this novel platform could be utilized in the high-throughput design of new genetically encoded indicators of cell electrical function, validation, and improvement of computer models of AP conduction, and development of novel engineered somatic cell therapies for the treatment of cardiac infarction and arrhythmias.

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