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J Physiol. 2017 Jul 15;595(14):4597-4610. doi: 10.1113/JP274460. Epub 2017 Jun 21.

In vitro model to study the effects of matrix stiffening on Ca2+ handling and myofilament function in isolated adult rat cardiomyocytes.

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Department of Physiology, Amsterdam Cardiovascular Sciences, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
Department of Surgery and Physiology, Faculty of Medicine, Universidade do Porto, Portugal.
Netherlands Heart Institute, Utrecht, the Netherlands.



This paper describes a novel model that allows exploration of matrix-induced cardiomyocyte adaptations independent of the passive effect of matrix rigidity on cardiomyocyte function. Detachment of adult cardiomyocytes from the matrix enables the study of matrix effects on cell shortening, Ca2+ handling and myofilament function. Cell shortening and Ca2+ handling are altered in cardiomyocytes cultured for 24 h on a stiff matrix. Matrix stiffness-impaired cardiomyocyte contractility is reversed upon normalization of extracellular stiffness. Matrix stiffness-induced reduction in unloaded shortening is more pronounced in cardiomyocytes isolated from obese ZSF1 rats with heart failure with preserved ejection fraction compared to lean ZSF1 rats.


Extracellular matrix (ECM) stiffening is a key element of cardiac disease. Increased rigidity of the ECM passively inhibits cardiac contraction, but if and how matrix stiffening also actively alters cardiomyocyte contractility is incompletely understood. In vitro models designed to study cardiomyocyte-matrix interaction lack the possibility to separate passive inhibition by a stiff matrix from active matrix-induced alterations of cardiomyocyte properties. Here we introduce a novel experimental model that allows exploration of cardiomyocyte functional alterations in response to matrix stiffening. Adult rat cardiomyocytes were cultured for 24 h on matrices of tuneable stiffness representing the healthy and the diseased heart and detached from their matrix before functional measurements. We demonstrate that matrix stiffening, independent of passive inhibition, reduces cell shortening and Ca2+ handling but does not alter myofilament-generated force. Additionally, detachment of adult cultured cardiomyocytes allowed the transfer of cells from one matrix to another. This revealed that stiffness-induced cardiomyocyte changes are reversed when matrix stiffness is normalized. These matrix stiffness-induced changes in cardiomyocyte function could not be explained by adaptation in the microtubules. Additionally, cardiomyocytes isolated from stiff hearts of the obese ZSF1 rat model of heart failure with preserved ejection fraction show more pronounced reduction in unloaded shortening in response to matrix stiffening. Taken together, we introduce a method that allows evaluation of the influence of ECM properties on cardiomyocyte function separate from the passive inhibitory component of a stiff matrix. As such, it adds an important and physiologically relevant tool to investigate the functional consequences of cardiomyocyte-matrix interactions.


cardiomyocyte function; cell culture; experimental model; extracellular matrix

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