Commonly used thiol-containing antioxidants reduce cardiac differentiation and alter gene expression ratios of sarcomeric isoforms

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Reactive oxygen species (ROS) scavengers such as beta-mercaptoethanol (BME) and monothiol glycerol (MTG) are extensively used in stem cell research to prevent cellular oxidative stress. However, how these antioxidant supplements impact stem cell cardiac differentiation, a process regulated by redox-signaling remains unknown. In this study, we found that removal of BME from the conventional high-glucose, serum-based differentiation medium improved cardiac differentiation efficiency by 2–3 fold. BME and MTG treatments during differentiation significantly reduced mRNA expression of cardiac progenitor markers (NKX2.5 and ISL1) as well as sarcomeric markers (MLC2A, MLC2V, TNNI3, MYH6 and MYH7), suggesting reduced cardiomyogenesis by BME or MTG. Moreover, BME and MTG altered the expression ratios between the sarcomeric isoforms. In particular, TNNI3 to TNNI1 ratio and MLC2V to MLC2A ratio were significantly lower in BME or MTG treated cells than untreated cells, implying altered cardiomyocyte phenotype and maturity. Lastly, BME and MTG treatments resulted in less frequent beating, slower contraction and relaxation velocities than untreated cells. Interestingly, none of the above-mentioned effects was observed with Trolox, a non-thiol based antioxidant, despite its strong antioxidant activity. This work demonstrates that commonly used antioxidant supplements may cause considerable changes to cellular redox state and the outcome of differentiation.HIGHLIGHTSβ-mercaptoethanol (BME) and monothiolglycerol (MTG) reduce cardiac differentiation.BME and MTG treatments decrease TNNI3/TNNI1 and MLC2V/MLC2A expression ratios.BME and MTG treatments reduce beating rates and contraction/relaxation velocities.Trolox, a strong ROS scavenger, does not inhibit cardiac differentiation.

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