Discovery has implications for heart disease

May 01, 2008

A study, led by University of Iowa researchers, reveals a new dimension for a key heart enzyme and sheds light on an important biological pathway involved in cell death in heart disease. The study, published in the May 2 issue of Cell, has implications for understanding, and potentially for diagnosing and treating, heart failure and arrhythmias.

The UI researchers and colleagues from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., focused on calmodulin kinase II, or CaM kinase II, a well-studied enzyme critical to many fundamental processes including heartbeat and thought.

Scientists know that CaM kinase’s activity is sustained by adding a phosphate group -- a process known as phosphorylation. The new study proves that oxidation -- adding oxygen -- also can sustain the enzyme’s activity, and like phosphorylation, the mechanism can be reversed to inactivate the kinase.

"Our results suggest that oxidation of CaM kinase is a dynamic and reversible process that may direct cell signaling in health and disease," said Mark Anderson, M.D., Ph.D., UI professor of internal medicine and molecular physiology and biophysics and senior study author. "Because CaM kinase activity is involved in arrhythmias, hypertrophy and heart cell death, this work also provides new insights into a disease pathway in heart that may lead to development of new drugs to treat heart disease."

In patients with heart failure, the level of angiotensin II -- a signaling molecule that promotes oxidation and cell death -- is elevated. Using a specially created antibody, the researchers found that angiotensin II also increases the amount of oxidized CaM kinase.

In addition, by replacing the cell’s normal CaM kinase with a CaM kinase unable to be oxidized, the scientists were able to block angiotensin-induced cell death. Scientists hope this discovery might lead to therapies that prevent cell death by blocking CaM kinase oxidation.

Currently, "angiotensin-blockers" are a mainstay for treating patients with sick hearts, but they work indirectly by targeting receptors on the cell surface. Anderson, who also is the Potter-Lambert Chair in Cardiology and director of the UI Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, suggested that by understanding the signaling mechanisms that occur inside the cell, it might be possible to inhibit the angiotensin pathway more directly. This approach may also preserve some of the good effects mediated by the cell surface receptor.

Using a wide range of scientific techniques and experimental methods, the team, led by Anderson and Jeffrey Erickson, Ph.D., a UI postdoctoral fellow, pinned down the details of the internal signaling mechanism.

Specifically, they showed that oxidation of two neighboring methionines -- sulfur-containing amino acids -- can sustain CaM kinase activity. Loss of these two methionines prevents activation by oxidation. They also found that they could return CaM kinase to its inactive state and inhibit heart cell death and dysfunction by using an enzyme called methionine sulfoxide reductase A (msrA), which reverses the methionine oxidation. Studies in worms, fruit flies and mice have shown that msrA increases lifespan, but, until now, the enzyme's targets in heart were unknown.

The UI team compared mice without the msrA enzyme to normal mice when the animals underwent disease stresses, including excess angiotensin or induced heart attacks. The mice without msrA were more likely to die than normal mice under these circumstances, and the levels of oxidized CaM kinase were much higher in mice that lacked the enzyme.

Anderson speculated that the findings could implicate msrA as a susceptibility gene for patients – potentially, variations in the gene might help explain why some people do so badly after a heart attack where others do well.

The study demonstrates a direct link between CaM kinase activation and oxidative stress, two processes that are implicated in a wide variety of physiological and disease states. These findings will likely have broad implications and applications in basic research, diagnostics and new therapeutic approaches and represent an example of translation science of the type supported and encouraged by the new Institute for Clinical and Translational Science at the UI.

"This study also is a great example of collaborative science," added Anderson. "We had to apply expertise from several different labs to tackle this problem. So, the ease with which we can collaborate across disciplines at the UI and between institutions was enormously beneficial."

Source: University of Iowa

Explore further: Serotonin neuron subtypes: New insights could inform SIDS understanding, depression treatment

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Research points to way to improve heart treatment

Mar 10, 2010

Current drugs used to treat heart failure and arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat) have limited effectiveness and have side effects. New basic science findings from a University of Iowa study suggest a way that treatments could ...

Study helps advance heart-related research

Dec 04, 2009

Using a new mathematical model of heart cells, University of Iowa investigators have shown how activation of a critical enzyme, calmodulin kinase II (CaM kinase), disrupts the electrical activity of heart cells.

Enzyme weakens the heart

Feb 17, 2009

An enzyme makes the mouse heart prone to chronic cardiac insufficiency - if it is suppressed, the heart remains strong despite increased stress. Cardiologists at the Internal Medicine Clinic at Heidelberg University Hospital ...

Rare disease provides clues about enzyme role in arrhythmias

Dec 11, 2008

A University of Iowa study provides insight into a calcium-sensing enzyme already known to play a role in irregular heartbeats and other critical functions. The researchers showed that the enzyme, calmodulin kinase II (CaM ...

Recommended for you

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.