Background—Arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC) is a primary heart muscle disorder resulting from desmosomal protein mutations. ARVC is characterized pathologically by fibrofatty infiltration and clinically by arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death. We aimed to establish a patient-/disease-specific human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC) model of ARVC.
Methods and Results—Dermal fibroblasts were obtained from 2 patients with ARVC with plakophilin-2 (PKP2) mutations, reprogrammed to generate hiPSCs, coaxed to differentiate into cardiomyocytes (CMs), and then compared with healthy control hiPSC-derived CMs (hiPSC-CMs). Real-time polymerase chain reaction showed a significant decrease in the expression of PKP2 in the ARVC-hiPSC-CMs. Immunostainings revealed reduced densities of PKP2, the associated desmosomal protein plakoglobin, and the gap-junction protein connexin-43. Electrophysiological assessment demonstrated prolonged field potential rise time in the ARVC-hiPSC-CMs. Transmission electron microscopy identified widened and distorted desmosomes in the ARVC-hiPSC-CMs. Clusters of lipid droplets were identified in the ARVC-CMs that displayed the more severe desmosomal pathology. This finding was associated with upregulation of the proadipogenic transcription factor peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-γ. Exposure of the cells to apidogenic stimuli augmented desmosomal distortion and lipid accumulation. The latter phenomenon was prevented by application of a specific inhibitor of glycogen synthase kinase 3β (6-bromoindirubin-3′-oxime).
Conclusions—This study highlights the unique potential of the hiPSC technology for modeling inherited cardiac disorders in general and ARVC specifically. The hiPSC-CMs were demonstrated to recapitulate the ARVC phenotype in the dish, provide mechanistic insights into early disease pathogenesis, and provide a unique platform for drug discovery and testing in this disorder.