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Cardiac hypertrophy and thyroid hormone signaling


Thyroid hormone exerts a large number of influences on the cardiovascular system. Increased thyroid hormone action increases the force and speed of systolic contraction and the speed of diastolic relaxation and these are largely beneficial effects. Furthermore, thyroid hormone has marked electrophysiological effects increasing heart rate and the propensity for atrial fibrillation and these effects are largely mal-adaptive. In addition, thyroid hormone markedly increases cardiac angiogenesis and decreases vascular tone. These multiple thyroid hormone effects are largely mediated by the action of nuclear based thyroid hormone receptors (TR) the thyroid hormone receptor alpha and beta. TRα is the predominant isoform in the heart. Rapid nongenomic thyroid hormone effects also occur, which can be clearly demonstrated in ex-vivo experiments. Some of the most marked thyroid hormone effects in cardiac myocytes involve influences on calcium flux, with thyroid hormone promoting expression of the gene encoding the calcium pump of the sarcoplasmic reticulum (SERCa2). In contrast, in hypothyroid animals phospholamban levels, which inhibit the SERCa2 pump, are increased. In addition, marked effects are exerted on the calcium channel of the sarcoplasmic reticulum the ryanodine channel. Related to myofibrillar proteins, myosin heavy chain alpha is increased by T3 and MHC beta is decreased. Complex and interesting interactions occur between cardiac hypertrophy induced by excess thyroid hormone action and cardiac hypertrophy occurring with heart failure. The thyroid hormone mediated cardiac hypertrophy in its initial phases presents a physiological hypertrophy with increases in SERCa2 levels and decreased expression of MHC beta. In contrast, pressure overload induced heart failure leads to a “pathological” cardiac hypertrophy which is largely mediated by activation of the calcineurin system and the MAPkinases signaling system. Recent evidence indicates that heart failure can lead to a downregulation of the thyroid hormone signaling system in the heart. In the failing heart, decreases of thyroid hormone receptor levels occur. In addition, serum levels of T4 and T3 are decreased with heart failure in the frame of the non-thyroidal illness syndrome. The decrease in T3 serves as an indicator for a bad prognosis in the heart failure patient being linked to increased mortality. In animal models, it can be shown that in pressure overload-induced cardiac hypertrophy a decrease of thyroid hormone receptor levels occurs. Cardiac function can be improved by increasing expression of thyroid hormone receptors mediated by adeno-associated virus based gene transfer. The failing heart may develop a “hypothyroid” status contributing to diminished cardiac contractile function.

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