Cardiac transgenesis with the tetracycline transactivator changes myocardial function and gene expression

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Journal Article
Physiological Genomics, 2005, 22 pp. 118 - 126
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The cardiac-specific tetracycline-regulated gene expression system (tet-system) is a powerful tool using double-transgenic mice. The cardiac α-myosin heavy chain promoter (αMHC) drives lifetime expression of a tetracycline-inhibited transcription activator (tTA). Crossing αMHC-tTA mice with mice containing a tTA-responsive promoter linked to a target gene yields double-transgenic mice having tetracycline-repressed expression of the target gene in the heart. Using the tet-system, some studies use nontransgenic mice for the control group, whereas others use single-transgenic αMHC-tTA mice. However, previous studies found that high-level expression of a modified activator protein caused cardiomyopathy. Therefore, we tested whether cardiac expression of tTA was associated with altered function of αMHC-tTA mice compared with wild-type (WT) littermates. We monitored in vivo and in vitro function and gene expression profiles for myocardium from WT and αMHC-tTA mice. Compared with WT littermates, αMHC-tTA mice had a greater heart-to-body weight ratio (≈10%), ventricular dilation, and decreased ejection fraction, suggesting mild cardiomyopathy. In vitro, submaximal contractions were greater compared with WT and were associated with greater myofilament Ca2+ sensitivity. Gene expression profiling revealed that the expression of 153 genes was significantly changed by >20% when comparing αMHC-tTA with WT myocardium. These findings demonstrate that introduction of the αMHC-tTA construct causes significant effects on myocardial gene expression and major functional abnormalities in vivo and in vitro. For studies using the tet-system, these results suggest caution in the use of controls, since αMHC-tTA myocardium differs appreciably from WT. Furthermore, the results raise the possibility that the phenotype conferred by a target gene may be influenced by the modified genetic background of αMHC-tTA myocardium.
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