Contractile performance of adult ventricular rat cardiomyocytes is not directly jeopardized by NO/cGMP-dependent induction of pro-apoptotic pathways

Hakan Tastan, Justus-Liebig-Universität Giessen
Yaser Abdallah, Aga Khan University
Gerhild Euler, Justus-Liebig-Universität Giessen
Hans Michael Piper, Justus-Liebig-Universität Giessen
Klaus-Dieter Schlüter, Justus-Liebig-Universität Giessen

This work was published before the author joined Aga Khan University.


The activation of NO/cGMP pathways can induce pro-apoptotic pathways in cardiomyocytes although only a small number of cardiomyocytes fulfill the criteria of apoptosis. The same pathways reduce the contractile performance of cardiomyocytes. In the present study, we tested the hypothesis that exposure of cells to NO/cGMP for 24 h decrease their contractile performance due to an activation of pro-apoptotic pathways. Experiments were performed on freshly isolated and cultured adult ventricular rat cardiomyocytes. Cells were incubated with 8-bromo-cyclo-GMP (100 nmol/L–1 μmol/L), the NO donor SNAP (1 nmol/L–100 μmol/L), or the guanylyl cyclase activator YC-1 (3 μmol/L). Cell shortening, contraction and relaxation velocities, and diastolic cell lengths were determined at beating frequencies of 0.5, 1, and 2 Hz 24 h later. The activation of pro-apoptotic pathways was determined by staining of cardiomyocytes with an antibody directed against active caspase-3 and quantification of the number of apoptotic cells (annexin staining). Caspase-3 activation and an increase in the number of apoptotic cells was observed, but only at the highest concentrations tested (8-bromo-cyclo-GMP: 1–10 mmol/L; SNAP: 1–100 μmol/L). At these concentrations, none of the drugs decreased the mean cell shortening of cardiomyocytes. However, at concentrations lower than those required for induction of apoptotic cell death, the diastolic cell lengths and sarcomere lengths increased but cell shortening decreased. In conclusion, low concentrations of either NO or cGMP cause a desensitization of myofibrils, as indicated by elongated cell shapes, increased sarcomere lengths and reduced load-free cell shortening. High concentrations of NO/cGMP induce caspase-3 activation and increase the number of cells fulfilling the criteria of apoptotic cell death but did not impair cell function. Therefore, induction of apoptotic cell death per se seems not to contribute to the loss of contractile efficiency on the cellular level.