Innervating sympathetic neurons regulate heart size and the timing of cardiomyocyte cell cycle withdrawal

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Sympathetic drive to the heart is a key modulator of cardiac function and interactions between heart tissue and innervating sympathetic fibres are established early in development. Significant innervation takes place during postnatal heart development, a period when cardiomyocytes undergo a rapid transition from proliferative to hypertrophic growth. The question of whether these innervating sympathetic fibres play a role in regulating the modes of cardiomyocyte growth was investigated using 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA) to abolish early sympathetic innervation of the heart. Postnatal chemical sympathectomy resulted in rats with smaller hearts, indicating that heart growth is regulated by innervating sympathetic fibres during the postnatal period. In vitro experiments showed that sympathetic interactions resulted in delays in markers of cardiomyocyte maturation, suggesting that changes in the timing of the transition from hyperplastic to hypertrophic growth of cardiomyocytes could underlie changes in heart size in the sympathectomized animals. There was also an increase in the expression of Meis1, which has been linked to cardiomyocyte cell cycle withdrawal, suggesting that sympathetic signalling suppresses cell cycle withdrawal. This signalling involves β-adrenergic activation, which was necessary for sympathetic regulation of cardiomyocyte proliferation and hypertrophy. The effect of β-adrenergic signalling on cardiomyocyte hypertrophy underwent a developmental transition. While young postnatal cardiomyocytes responded to isoproterenol (isoprenaline) with a decrease in cell size, mature cardiomyocytes showed an increase in cell size in response to the drug. Together, these results suggest that early sympathetic effects on proliferation modulate a key transition between proliferative and hypertrophic growth of the heart and contribute to the sympathetic regulation of adult heart size.

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