The heterotrimeric cardiac troponin complex is a key regulator of contraction and plays an essential role in conferring Ca2+ sensitivity to the sarcomere. During ischemic injury, rapidly accumulating protons acidify the myoplasm, resulting in markedly reduced Ca2+ sensitivity of the sarcomere. Unlike the adult heart, sarcomeric Ca2+ sensitivity in fetal cardiac tissue is comparatively pH insensitive. Replacement of the adult cardiac troponin I (cTnI) isoform with the fetal troponin I (ssTnI) isoform renders adult cardiac contractile machinery relatively insensitive to acidification. Alignment and functional studies have determined histidine 132 of ssTnI to be the predominant source of this pH insensitivity. Substitution of histidine at the cognate position 164 in cTnI confers the same pH insensitivity to adult cardiac myocytes. An alanine at position 164 of cTnI is conserved in all mammals, with the exception of the platypus, which expresses a proline. Prolines are biophysically unique because of their innate conformational rigidity and helix-disrupting function. To provide deeper structure-function insight into the role of the TnC-TnI interface in determining contractility, we employed a live-cell approach alongside molecular dynamics simulations to ascertain the chemo-mechanical implications of the disrupted helix 4 of cTnI where position 164 exists. This important motif belongs to the critical switch region of cTnI. Substitution of a proline at position 164 of cTnI in adult rat cardiac myocytes causes increased contractility independent of alterations in the Ca2+ transient. Free-energy perturbation calculations of cTnC-Ca2+ binding indicate no difference in cTnC-Ca2+ affinity. Rather, we propose the enhanced contractility is derived from new salt bridge interactions between cTnI helix 4 and cTnC helix A, which are critical in determining pH sensitivity and contractility. Molecular dynamics simulations demonstrate that cTnI A164P structurally phenocopies ssTnI under baseline but not acidotic conditions. These findings highlight the evolutionarily directed role of the TnI-cTnC interface in determining cardiac contractility.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by grants from the American Heart Association (to A.D.V.) and National Institutes of Health (to J.M.M.)