Proteomic investigation of embryonic rat heart-derived H9c2 cell line sheds new light on the molecular phenotype of the popular cell model

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Due to their cardiac origin, H9c2 cells rank among the most popular cell lines in current cardiovascular research, yet molecular phenotype remains elusive. Hence, in this study we used proteomic approach to describe molecular phenotype of H9c2 cells in their undifferentiated (i.e., most frequently used) state, and its functional response to cardiotoxic drug doxorubicin. Of 1671 proteins identified by iTRAQ IEF/LC–MSMS analysis, only 12 proteins were characteristic for striated muscle cells and none was cardiac phenotype-specific. Targeted LC-SRM and western blot analyses confirmed that undifferentiated H9c2 cells are phenotypically considerably different to both primary neonatal cardiomyocytes and adult myocardium. These cells lack proteins essential for formation of striated muscle myofibrils or they express only minor amounts thereof. They also fail to express many proteins important for metabolism of muscle cells. The challenge with clinically relevant concentrations of doxorubicin did not induce a proteomic signature that has been previously noted in primary cardiomyocytes or adult hearts. Instead, several alterations previously described in other cells of mesodermal origin, such as fibroblasts, were observed (e.g., severe down-regulation of collagen synthesis pathway). In conclusion, the molecular phenotype of H9c2 cells resembles very immature myogenic cells with skeletal muscle commitment upon differentiation and thus, translatability of findings obtained in these cells deserves caution.

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