Co-expression of calcium and hERG potassium channels reduces the incidence of proarrhythmic events


Aims Cardiac electrical activity is extraordinarily robust. However, when it goes wrong it can have fatal consequences. Electrical activity in the heart is controlled by the carefully orchestrated activity of more than a dozen different ion conductances. While there is considerable variability in cardiac ion channel expression levels between individuals, studies in rodents have indicated that there are modules of ion channels whose expression co-vary. The aim of this study was to investigate whether meta-analytic co-expression analysis of large-scale gene expression datasets could identify modules of co-expressed cardiac ion channel genes in human hearts that are of functional importance. Methods and results Meta-analysis of 3653 public human RNA-seq datasets identified a strong correlation between expression of CACNA1C (L-type calcium current, ICaL) and KCNH2 (rapid delayed rectifier K+ current, IKr), which was also observed in human adult heart tissue samples. In silico modelling suggested that co-expression of CACNA1C and KCNH2 would limit the variability in action potential duration seen with variations in expression of ion channel genes and reduce susceptibility to early afterdepolarizations, a surrogate marker for proarrhythmia. We also found that levels of KCNH2 and CACNA1C expression are correlated in human-induced pluripotent stem cell-derived cardiac myocytes and the levels of CACNA1C and KCNH2 expression were inversely correlated with the magnitude of changes in repolarization duration following inhibition of IKr. Conclusion Meta-analytic approaches of multiple independent human gene expression datasets can be used to identify gene modules that are important for regulating heart function. Specifically, we have verified that there is co-expression of CACNA1C and KCNH2 ion channel genes in human heart tissue, and in silico analyses suggest that CACNA1C–KCNH2 co-expression increases the robustness of cardiac electrical activity.

Cardiovascular Research