Cardioprotection in the aging, diabetic heart: the loss of protective Akt signalling

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Old age and diabetes are risk factors that often coexist increasing the vulnerability of the heart to the lethal effects of ischaemia–reperfusion injury (IRI). However, to our knowledge, no investigations have examined IRI and cardioprotective signalling in animal models bearing these co-morbidities concomitantly. The ability of the heart to recover following IRI is greatly dependent on its innate cardioprotective potential, in which a central role is played by Akt. We aimed to investigate in an aging diabetic rat model, the susceptibility of the heart to IRI, the achievability of ischaemic preconditioning (IPC) against this lethal event, and the changes in Akt signalling, as the main prosurvival intracellular pathway.

Methods and results

Our data showed that the isolated hearts of aged, diabetic Goto-Kakizaki rats were more susceptible to sub-lethal injury and not amenable to cardioprotection via IPC, compared with younger diabetic rat hearts. Western blot analysis of the heart tissue suggested a chronic up-regulation of Akt phosphorylation, and reduced expression of the mitochondrial regulator PGC-1α and of the anti-oxidant enzyme catalase, potentially due to the Akt up-regulation. Moreover, no further activation of Akt could be achieved following IPC.


An increased susceptibility to IRI in the aged, diabetic heart could be a consequence of impaired Akt signalling due to chronic Akt phosphorylation. Additional Akt phosphorylation required for IPC protection may therefore not be possible in the aged, diabetic rat heart and may explain why this cardioprotective manoeuvre cannot be achieved in these hearts.

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