MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Dr. Audrey Chang, PhD
UT Southwestern Medical Center
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?
Response: The heart is a singular kind of muscle that contracts and relaxes continuously over a lifetime to pump blood to the body’s organs. Contractions depend on a motor protein myosin pulling on actin filaments in specialized structures. Heart contraction is improved when myosin has a phosphate molecule attached to it (phosphorylation), and a constant amount of phosphorylation is essential for normal heart function. The amount of phosphorylation necessary for optimal cardiac performance is maintained by a balance in the activities of myosin kinase enzymes that add the phosphate and an opposing phosphatase enzyme that removes the phosphate. If the amount of phosphorylation is too low, heart failure results. Animal models with increased myosin phosphorylation have enhanced cardiac performance that resist stresses that cause heart failure.
In this recent study reported in PNAS, a new kinase that phosphorylates myosin in heart muscle, MLCK4, was discovered and its crystal structure reported, a first for any myosin kinase family member. Compared to distinct myosin kinases in other kinds of muscles (skeletal and smooth), this cardiac-specific kinase lacks a conserved regulatory segment that inhibits kinase activity consistent with biochemical studies that it is always turned on. Additionally, another related myosin kinase found only in heart muscle (MLCK3) contains a modified regulatory segment, allowing partial activity enhanced by the calcium modulator protein, calmodulin. Thus, both myosin kinases unique to cardiac muscle provide phosphate to myosin in normal beating hearts to optimize performance and prevent heart failure induced by stresses.