Ebert AM, Hume GL, Warren KS, Cook NP, Burns CG, Mohideen MA, Siegal G, Yelon D, Fishman MC, Garrity DM. 2005. Calcium extrusion is critical for cardiac morphogenesis and rhythm in embryonic zebrafish hearts. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 102(49):17705-10. Pubmed: 16314582


Calcium entry into myocytes drives contraction of the embryonic heart. To prepare for the next contraction, myocytes must extrude calcium from intracellular space via the Na+/Ca2+ exchanger (NCX1) or sequester it into the sarcoplasmic reticulum, via the sarcoplasmic reticulum Ca2+-ATPase2 (SERCA2). In mammals, defective calcium extrusion correlates with increased intracellular calcium levels and may be relevant to heart failure and sarcoplasmic dysfunction in adults. We report here that mutation of the cardiac-specific NCX1 (NCX1h) gene causes embryonic lethal cardiac arrhythmia in zebrafish tremblor (tre) embryos. The tre ventricle is nearly silent, whereas the atrium manifests a variety of arrhythmias including fibrillation. Calcium extrusion defects in tre mutants correlate with severe disruptions in sarcomere assembly, whereas mutations in the L-type calcium channel that abort calcium entry do not produce this phenotype. Knockdown of SERCA2 activity by morpholino-mediated translational inhibition or pharmacological inhibition causes embryonic lethality due to defects in cardiac contractility and morphology but, in contrast to tre mutation, does not produce arrhythmia. Analysis of intracellular calcium levels indicates that homozygous tre embryos develop calcium overload, which may contribute to the degeneration of cardiac function in this mutant. Thus, the inhibition of NCX1h versus SERCA2 activity differentially affects the pathophysiology of rhythm in the developing heart and suggests that relative levels of NCX1 and SERCA2 function are essential for normal development.

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Photo of Mark C. Fishman

Mark C. Fishman’s group studies the heart-brain connection. They employ a range of genetic, developmental, and neurobiological tools in zebrafish to understand what the heart tells the brain, and how critical internal sensory systems adjust homeostatic and somatic behaviors, including social interactions.

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