Hypoxia is a major stress on fetal development and leads to induction of endothelin-1 (ET-1) expression. We tested the hypothesis that ET-1 stimulates the terminal differentiation of cardiomyocytes from mononucleate to binucleate in the developing heart.
Hypoxia (10.5% O2) treatment of pregnant rats from day 15 to day 21 resulted in a significant increase in prepro-ET-1 mRNA expression in fetal hearts. ET-1 ex vivo treatment of fetal rat cardiomyocytes increased percent binucleate cells and decreased Ki-67 expression, a marker for proliferation, under both control and hypoxic conditions. Hypoxia alone decreased Ki-67 expression and in conjunction with ET-1 treatment decreased cardiomyocyte size. PD145065, a non-selective ET-receptor antagonist, blocked the changes in binucleation and proliferation caused by ET-1. DNA methylation in fetal cardiomyocytes was significantly increased with ET-1 treatment, which was blocked by 5-aza-2'-deoxycytidine, a DNA methylation inhibitor. In addition, 5-aza-2'-deoxycytidine treatment abrogated the increase in binucleation and decrease in proliferation induced by ET-1.
Hypoxic stress and synthesis of ET-1 increases DNA methylation and promotes terminal differentiation of cardiomyocytes in the developing heart. This premature exit of the cell cycle may lead to a reduced cardiomyocyte endowment in the heart and have a negative impact on cardiac function.