Purpose: To examine the gross and microscopic pathological features of complete heart specimens from patients carrying the phospholamban (PLN) p.Arg14del mutation and to test our hypothesis that this mutation leads to aggregation and autophagy of mutant PLN protein in cardiomyocytes.
Methods: Sixteen hearts were studied, acquired from 8 male and 8 female patients with a median age of 51.5 years (range 29-74). Eleven were obtained from autopsies and five were explants. Six autopsy cases had died suddenly. The other 10 patients were clinically evaluated on the basis of widely accepted criteria for ARVC and DCM. Immunohistochemistry (IHC) for PLN was performed to visualize protein aggregation. IHC for sequestosome-1 (SQSTM-1/p62) was applied to visualize autophagy. Double IHC staining was performed to study co-localization of PLN and SQSTM-1/p62 in aggregates.
Results: All hearts had an ARVC phenotype with gross or microscopic fibrofatty replacement of the RV wall. LV involvement was present in 15/16 hearts, characterized by interstitial fibrosis and myocyte hypertrophy. Microscopic LV fibrofatty replacement was seen in 8/16 hearts. Clinically, 8/10 patients were diagnosed with combined ARVC/DCM and 2/10 had ARVC. Large perinuclear PLN protein aggregates were found in cardiomyocytes in both ventricles in all examined hearts. The median number of PLN aggregates was 8 per 5mm2 (range 1-19) in RV myocardium and 12 per 5mm2 (range 2-39) in LV myocardium. Co-localization of SQSTM-1/p62 and PLN was observed in these aggregates.
Conclusions: In this series of 16 hearts, it appeared that PLN p.Arg14del-mutation related cardiomyopathy is a biventricular arrhythmogenic cardiomyopathy and a protein-aggregate associated disease characterized by large perinuclear PLN aggregates that are degraded by autophagy.