Role of cyclin-dependent Kinase 9 in the zebrafish embryonic heart
Cardiac hypertrophy leading to heart failure remains a leading cause of morbidity and mortality in the 21st century despite major therapeutic advances. Improved understanding of novel molecular and cellular processes contributing to cardiac hypertrophy therefore continues to be important. Cyclin-dependent Kinase 9 (CDK9), part of a family of proteins controlling cell cycle and growth, has emerged as one such potential candidate over the last 5 years. CDK9 is the catalytic subunit of the CDK9/CyclinT complex and acts by phosphorylating the carboxy-terminal domain of RNA polymerase II. Hypertrophic signals, such as Endothelin-1 (ET-1) and phenylephrine, have been shown to cause CDK9 activation leading to a hypertrophic response in cultured mouse cardiomyocytes associated with reactivation of the foetal gene program. CDK9 also forms a complex with GATA4 to play a role in differentiation of mouse ES cells into cardiomyocytes. These findings suggest a specific role for CDK9 in controlling growth and differentiation of cardiomyocytes and merits further study in models where cardiomyocyte differentiation and proliferation are key contributors. In contrast to mammals, zebrafish retain a high cardiomyocyte proliferative capacity throughout their life span and can readily repair following injury. I have examined the role of CDK9 on global and cardiac development in the zebrafish embryo. I have also assessed the impact of CDK9 manipulation on response to ventricle injury using a laser-induced injury model developed and validated as part of my thesis. My findings confirm that normal growth of the embryonic ventricle is associated with a rapid increase in cardiomyocyte number, that was of 50% in the period 96-120 hpf, accompanied by increasing chamber trabeculation. This is also characterized by an increase in the gene expression of most of cardiac development relevant transcription factors, i.e. GATA4, 5 and 6, and MEF2c. The significant reduced cardiovascular function (14% of Ejection Fraction compared to 20% in controls) at 2 h post laser injury in the zebrafish embryonic heart promptly recovers at 24 hour post-laser, accompanied by acceleration of cardiomyocyte proliferation, that increased of 49% in injured ventricles compared to 20% in controls in the period 2-24 h post-laser. Pharmacological and genetic inhibition of CDK9 activity also significantly reduced cardiac growth, cardiomyocyte number, ventricle function and impairs functional recovery following laser injury. Conversely, genetic inhibition of LARP7, a CDK9 repressor, resulted in increased cardiomyocyte number and was associated with full functional and cellular recovery following laser-injury. In conclusion, I have provided evidence, in the zebrafish embryonic heart, that CDK9 plays an important role in cardiac growth and development and impacts significantly on cardiomyocyte proliferation. I have also shown that CDK9 manipulation significantly affects cellular and functional recovery following laser-induced injury. Further studies are required to further define the role of CDK9 and LARP7 in the heart and develop therapeutic strategies using this pathway that could contribute to cellular repair mechanisms in the adult mammalian heart.