Partial cell fusion: A newly recognized type of communication between dedifferentiating cardiomyocytes and fibroblasts

R.B.M.A. Driesen, G.D. Dispersyn, A.K.C.P. Verheyen*, S.M. van den Eijnde, L. Hofstra, F. Thone, P. Dijkstra, W.M.H. Debie, M. Borgers, F.C.S. Ramaekers

*Corresponding author for this work

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Objective: Fibroblasts have been shown to couple to neonatal cardiomyocytes in heterocellular cultures through functional gap junctions. Our objective was to provide evidence for an additional type of heterocellular communication between fibroblasts and adult cardiomyocytes in vitro and in vivo. Methods: The contact areas in heterocellular co-cultures were evaluated by specific labeling and the intercellular communication was studied using preloading of fibroblasts with tracer molecules. Heterocellular fibroblast-cardiomyocyte contacts present in the in vitro setting and in the border zone of a rabbit myocardial infarction in vivo were further examined by electron microscopy. Results: Addition of fibroblasts preloaded with the fluorescent low molecular weight tracer calcein-AM to cultured myocytes indicated early dye transfer via connexin 43 functional gap junctions. At a later time-period after co-culturing, dye transfer of fibroblasts preloaded with the high molecular weight tracer dextran 10,000 suggested partial cell fusion. The membrane continuity giving rise to this partial cell fusion was confirmed by electron microscopy, clearly showing areas of intercytoplasmic contacts between fibroblasts and phenotypically adapted (dedifferentiated) cardiomyocytes. Fluorescein-labeled annexin V affinity studies revealed transient exposure of phosphatidylserine at the contact sites, suggesting that phosphatidylserine mediates the fusion process. Close contacts between cardiac fibroblasts and dedifferentiated cardiomyocytes accompanied by disruption of the basal lamina were observed in the border zone of a rabbit myocardial infarction in vivo. Conclusion: Our results suggest that the partial cell fusion-type of heterocellular communication in our co-culture model and the contacts observed in vivo may lead to new insights in cardiovascular disease.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37-46
JournalCardiovascular Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2005

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