Embryonic stem cells alter cardiomyocyte electrophysiological properties
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Embryonic stem cells (ESCs) are being considered as a cell source for cardiac regeneration because of their potency and availability. We studied the electrophysiological implications using co-cultures of ESCs and neonatal rat ventricular myocytes (NRVM) grown on a multi-electrode array (MEA). To mimic expected engraftment rates 5% mouse ESCs were co-cultured with NRVMs. Comparing cultures without and with 5% ESCs at 4 days, the mean bipolar field potential duration (FPD) of NRVMs increased from 26.3 ± 2.2 ms (n=10) to 44.3 ± 6.2 ms (n=9; p < 0.05), the interspike interval (ISI) increased from 358.3 ± 62.8 ms (n=10) to 947.8 ± 214.6 ms (n=7; p < 0.01), and conduction velocity (CV) decreased from 14.2 ± 1.3 cm/s (n=8) to 4.6 ± 1.2 cm/s (n=5; p < 0.01). To evaluate whether ESC were having direct or paracrine effects on NRVMs, media conditioned by 3x106 ESCs for 24 hr was diluted 1:1 with fresh media and then introduced to NRVM cultures on the day of plating. Conditioned media was changed daily and altered mean FPD, ISI, and CV to 46.1 ± 7.8 ms, ISI to 682.0 ± 128.5 ms, and 4.2 ± 0.4 cm/s (n=8; p < 0.01 for each measure), respectively at 4 days. However, changes were not seen in media that was incubated for 24hrs and diluted 1:1 with fresh media and introduced to NRVM cultures in a similar fashion (n=7; p > 0.05). Slowed CV is associated with increased arrhythmic risk and reports demonstrate an inverse relationship between CV and nonphosphorylated Cx43(NP-Cx43). Western blots for total Cx43 expression revealed a decrease in ratio of P-Cx43/NP-Cx43 in the 5% mouse ESCs and ESC conditioned media cultures as compared to controls (n=8; p < 0.01 for each). There was not significant increase in the total Cx43 expression (n=6; p > 0.05). Culturing ESCs with NRVMs resulted in a decreased ISI, prolonged FPD, and slowed CV of the co-cultures as compared to controls leading to pro-arrhythmic conditions. Similar effects on NRVMs were observed when applying media conditioned by ESCs, suggesting that the electrophysiological changes were mediated by soluble factors. The increase in NP-Cx43 leads to gap junction uncoupling being a potential mechanism for these arrhythmogenic substrates. Further research into preventing NP-Cx43 in cultures is currently underway.