Troponin I (TnI) is the molecular switch of the sarcomere. Cardiac myocytes express two isoforms of TnI during development. The fetal heart expresses the slow skeletal TnI (ssTnI) isoform and shortly after birth ssTnI is completely and irreversibly replaced by the adult cardiac TnI (cTnI) isoform. These two isoforms have important functional differences; broadly, ssTnI is a positive inotrope, especially under acidic/hypoxic conditions, whereas cTnI facilitates faster relaxation performance. Evolutionary directed changes in cTnI sequence suggest cTnI evolved to favor relaxation performance in the mammalian heart. To investigate the mechanism, we focused on several notable TnI isoform and trans-species-specific residues located in TnI's helix 4 using structure/function and molecular dynamics analyses. Gene transduction of adult cardiac myocytes by cTnIs with specific helix 4 ssTnI substitutions, Q157R/A164H/E166V/H173N (QAEH), and A164H/H173N (AH), were investigated. cTnI QAEH is similar in these four residues to ssTnI and nonmammalian chordate cTnIs, whereas cTnI AH is similar to fish cTnI in these four residues. In comparison to mammalian cTnI, cTnI QAEH and cTnI AH showed increased contractility and slowed relaxation, which functionally mimicked ssTnI expressing myocytes. cTnI QAEH molecular dynamics simulations demonstrated altered intermolecular interactions between TnI helix 4 and cTnC helix A, specifically revealing a new, to our knowledge, electrostatic interaction between R171of cTnI and E15 of cTnC, which structurally phenocopied the ssTnI conformation. Free energy perturbation calculation of cTnC Ca2+ binding for these conformations showed relative increased calcium binding for cTnI QAEH compared to cTnI. Taken together, to our knowledge, these new findings provide evidence that the evolutionary-directed coordinated acquisition of residues Q157, A164, E166, H173 facilitate enhanced relaxation performance in mammalian adult cardiac myocytes.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) (BRT (T32) and JMM).