Introduction: Cardiac injury results in the death of cardiac myocytes and subsequent scar formation through extracellular matrix (ECM) deposition by fibroblasts (FB) and myofibroblasts (myoFB). Excessive fibrosis results in pathological scarring that predisposes to arrhythmogenesis and heart failure, particularly in the elderly. Strategies to limit adverse ECM remodeling are urgently needed to curtail the growing epidemic of atrial fibrillation and heart failure in the aging population. Persistence of myoFB and resistance to apoptotic cell death has been proposed to underlie the mechanism of excessive fibrosis, yet is not fully characterized.
Methods: Cultured NIH/3T3 cells (control and TGF-β1 treated) have been challenged with activators of extrinsic (FAS-Ligand, 1 μg/mL) or intrinsic (Thapsigargin 10 μM and Staurosporine 5 μM) apoptotic pathways and Caspase-3 activity was measured in cellular lysate.
Results: FAS-L exposure induced ~40-fold suppression of Caspase-3 activity in TGF-β1 treated cells as compared with control (17±12 vs 686±5 nmol AMC/min/106 cells, respectively). Similarly, Staurosporine activated Caspase-3 in TGF-β1 treated cells ~3-fold (171±38 vs 536±29 nmol AMC/min/106 cells), and Thapsigargin ~10-fold (73±33 vs 742±8 nmol AMC/min/106 cells).
Conclusion: TGF-β1 treatment increased the sensitivity of NIH/3T3 cells toward extrinsic and intrinsic apoptotic stimuli. Although, TGF-β1 treatment increased overall resistance of NIH/3T3 cells to apoptosis, the responsiveness of cells to extrinsic vs intrinsic pathways was differentially affected. This data support the hypothesis that persistence of myoFB results in pathological scarring.