The Rockefeller University Press $30.00
J. Cell Biol. Vol. 193 No. 7 1181–1196
L. Qian and J.D. Wythe contributed equally to this paper.
Correspondence to Rolf Bodmer: firstname.lastname@example.org; or Li Qian: lqian@gladstone
Abbreviations used in this paper: CHD, congenital heart disease; UAS, upstream
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of mortality and
morbidity in industrialized nations. Since the discovery of the first
key determinant of heart development—tinman—in Drosophila
(Azpiazu and Frasch, 1993; Bodmer, 1993), numerous regula-
tors, including transcription factors, cell signaling molecules,
extracellular matrix proteins, and microRNAs have provided an
understanding of an increasingly complex network that guides
cardiac specification, differentiation, function, and maturation
in all organisms that possess a heart (Bier and Bodmer, 2004;
Olson, 2006; Srivastava, 2006; Qian et al., 2008a).
The fruit fly Drosophila is an attractive model system to
study various human diseases, including cardiac disease
(St Johnston, 2002; Bier, 2005). The Drosophila heart is a
simple linear tube comprised of myocardial and pericardial cells,
which is reminiscent of the primitive vertebrate embryonic heart.
peutic interventions in human heart disease. Using the
Drosophila heart as a platform for identifying novel gene
interactions leading to heart disease, we found that the
Rho-GTPase Cdc42 cooperates with the cardiac transcrip-
tion factor Tinman/Nkx2-5. Compound Cdc42, tinman
heterozygous mutant flies exhibited impaired cardiac out-
put and altered myofibrillar architecture, and adult heart–
specific interference with Cdc42 function is sufficient to
cause these same defects. We also identified K+ channels,
nraveling the gene regulatory networks that gov-
ern development and function of the mammalian
heart is critical for the rational design of thera-
encoded by dSUR and slowpoke, as potential effectors of
the Cdc42–Tinman interaction. To determine whether a
Cdc42–Nkx2-5 interaction is conserved in the mamma-
lian heart, we examined compound heterozygous mutant
mice and found conduction system and cardiac output
defects. In exploring the mechanism of Nkx2-5 interaction
with Cdc42, we demonstrated that mouse Cdc42 was a
target of, and negatively regulated by miR-1, which itself
was negatively regulated by Nkx2-5 in the mouse heart
and by Tinman in the fly heart. We conclude that Cdc42
plays a conserved role in regulating heart function and is
an indirect target of Tinman/Nkx2-5 via miR-1.
Tinman/Nkx2-5 acts via miR-1 and upstream of
Cdc42 to regulate heart function across species
Li Qian,1,2,3 Joshua D. Wythe,2,3 Jiandong Liu,1,4 Jerome Cartry,1 Georg Vogler,1 Bhagyalaxmi Mohapatra,5,12
Robyn T. Otway,6 Yu Huang,2 Isabelle N. King,2,3 Marjorie Maillet,14 Yi Zheng,14 Timothy Crawley,1
Ouarda Taghli-Lamallem,1 Christopher Semsarian,10 Sally Dunwoodie,7,8 David Winlaw,11 Richard P. Harvey,7,8
Diane Fatkin,6,8,9 Jeffrey A. Towbin,5,13 Jeffery D. Molkentin,14 Deepak Srivastava,2,3 Karen Ocorr,1
Benoit G. Bruneau,2,3 and Rolf Bodmer1
1Development and Aging Program, NASCR Center, Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, La Jolla, CA 92037
2Gladstone Institute for Cardiovascular Disease, 3Department of Pediatrics and Cardiovascular Research Institute, and 4Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics,
University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA 94158
5Pediatric Cardiology, Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children’s Hospital, Houston, TX 77030
6Division of Molecular Cardiology, 7Division of Developmental Biology, Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, 8Faculty of Medicine, and 9St. Vincent’s Hospital,
University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
10Department of Cardiology, Agnes Ginges Centre for Molecular Cardiology, Centenary Institute, Faculty of Medicine, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, University of Sydney,
Sydney NSW 2006, Australia
11Adolph Basser Cardiac Research and Kids Heart Research, Children’s Hospital at Westmead, Faculty of Medicine, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia
12Department of Zoology, BHU, Varanasi-221005, India
13Pediatric Cardiology and 14Molecular Cardiovascular Biology, The Heart Institute, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, OH 45229
© 2011 Qian et al. This article is distributed under the terms of an Attribution–
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as described at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/).
T H E J O U R N A L O F C E L L B I O L O G Y
JCB • VOLUME 193 • NUMBER 7 • 2011 1182
Genetic interactions between Cdc42 and
tinman in regulating heart performance
Increasing evidence suggests that the conserved cardiogenic
transcription factor network that regulates heart formation also
functions to establish and maintain cardiac performance in the
adult (Zaffran et al., 2006; Ocorr et al., 2007; Qian et al., 2008b;
Qian and Bodmer, 2009). To uncover genes that interact with this
transcription factor network in adult heart function, we con-
ducted a screen for mutations that aggravate the cardiac stress
response of flies heterozygous for tinman. We examined cardiac
performance of double-heterozygous flies for tinman and defi-
ciency lines (97 in total) covering the X chromosome and part of
the second chromosome (34% of the genome, see Table S1). We
identified several categories of candidate genes suggestive of a
developmental interaction: for example, the trans configuration
of tinman with the deficiency line 7783 is lethal (Fig. 1 A, group II
bottom), possibly due to a vital interaction with the dpp gene
(contained within 7783) that is critically involved in cardiac in-
duction during early embryogenesis, along with tinman (Qian
et al., 2008a). In another category, the heterozygous candidate
lines by themselves exhibit cardiac defects (increased pacing-
induced heart failure rate, see Materials and methods; e.g., lines
7708 and 7499; Fig. 1 A, group I), indicating that haploinsuffi-
ciency in one or more genes covered by these deficiencies results
in cardiac deficits. Of particular interest, the “strong enhancer”
category of deficiency lines shows an interaction when in trans
with tinman (>50%), but when crossed to wild type (w1118) ex-
hibits a low rate of heart failure (<20%) that is similar to wild-
type flies (e.g., 7717, 7721; Fig. 1 A, group II top). We chose for
further analysis line 7721, which exhibits a robust interaction
with tinman, in that the trans combination shows a threefold in-
crease in susceptibility to pacing-induced heart failure (7721 x
tin346) compared with single heterozygotes (e.g., 7721 x w1118).
Among the nine genes deleted by the deficiency 7721
(Df(1)Exel6253, referred to as Df(Cdc42)) is the small GTPase
encoded by Cdc42, which is known for its role in cell cycle regu-
lation and actin cytoskeletal rearrangement (Eaton et al., 1995;
Genova et al., 2000; Jacinto et al., 2000; Hurd et al., 2003;
Heasman and Ridley, 2008) and has been implicated in cardio-
myocyte growth and hypertrophy (Carè et al., 2007; Maillet et al.,
2009). We took a candidate gene approach and examined whether
known Cdc42 loss-of-function mutants also interacted with
tinman. Both tinEC40 (Bodmer, 1993) and tin346 (Azpiazu and
Frasch, 1993) heterozygotes show a dramatic increase in heart
failure rate in a Cdc423 heterozygous background (Fehon et al.,
1997; Genova et al., 2000), similar to that observed for tinman,
Df(1)Exel6253 double heterozygotes (Fig. 1 B). This suggests
that the interaction between tinman and Cdc42 is required for the
maintenance of proper adult heart function.
Cdc42-encoded RhoGTPase is required for
adult cardiac function in Drosophila
To examine a possible role for Cdc42 in the fly heart, we asked
whether Cdc42 plays a muscle- or cardiac-autonomous role.
Despite the simplicity of the structure, the genetic and mo-
lecular mechanisms that orchestrate heart formation are re-
markably conserved between flies and vertebrates (Bodmer,
1995; Cripps and Olson, 2002). Moreover, recent studies using
multiple functional assays revealed extensive conservation of
gene functions required for maintaining normal heart physiol-
ogy in the adult (Bier and Bodmer, 2004; Ocorr et al., 2007;
Qian et al., 2008a,b). Combined with the powerful genetic
tools available in the fly, screens to identify molecular–genetic
pathways involved in cardiac contractility and rhythm can
now be executed, leading to the identification of novel cardiac
regulators that can then be examined in mammals (Adams
and Sekelsky, 2002; St Johnston, 2002; Wessells and Bodmer,
2004; Neely et al., 2010).
Tinman and its mammalian homologue Nkx2-5 are homeo-
box transcription factors that play crucial roles in heart develop-
ment and function (Prall et al., 2002). Whereas ablation of
tinman in the Drosophila embryo abolishes heart formation,
targeted deletion of tinman at later stages reveals additional
requirements for tinman in maintaining normal adult heart func-
tion and physiology (Zaffran et al., 2006). This is reminiscent of
Nkx2-5 in vertebrates, which is required for establishing heart
function in the developing mouse embryo, for example, and
also later for its maintenance in the adult (Pashmforoush et al.,
2004). The genetic networks that Nkx2-5 participates in and
how these interactions regulate adult heart functions are not
well understood. A major reason for this is that it is often diffi-
cult to identify and study polygenic modifiers of (cardiac) dis-
ease in a vertebrate system, in part because the organism viability
is critically dependent on a functional heart.
In a previous study, we identified a genetic interaction
between neuromancer (nmr)/Tbx20 and tinman/Nkx2-5 in the
adult Drosophila heart (Qian et al., 2008b). Here, we performed
a deletion screen in a reduced tinman genetic background to
identify genes that interact with tinman to maintain normal
heart function in Drosophila. One of the strong genetic interac-
tions causing cardiac dysfunction was between tinman and the
gene Cdc42, a Rho family member of the small GTPase family,
suggesting a role for Cdc42 in maintaining heart function.
Indeed, dominant-negative interference with Cdc42 function alone
in the adult fly heart compromises cardiac performance. We
also identified potential downstream effectors of the Cdcd42–
tinman interaction, including dSUR and slowpoke, which
code for two K+ channels that are known to be required for
Cdc42 has a conserved, essential role in regulating cell
cycle, directed migration, epithelial polarity, and cell fate speci-
fication (Brown et al., 2006; Heasman and Ridley, 2008); and in
adult mouse cardiomyocytes Cdc42 is involved in growth and
prevention of hypertrophy (Maillet et al., 2009). Here, we find
that the genetic interaction between Cdc42 and Nkx2-5 is con-
served in the mouse, and that Cdc42 and Nkx2-5 synergize to
regulate heart function and physiology, which is likely mediated
by miR-1. These data suggest that Cdc42 plays a conserved role
in establishing and maintaining normal heart function down-
stream of, and potentially in concert with, the cardiac deter-
1183 Cdc42-Tin/Nkx2-5 in the heart • Qian et al.
suggesting that Cdc42 is essential for maintaining normal heart
function. These Cdc42N17 mutant hearts, when assessed for their
beating pattern, also show increased incidence of arrhythmias
and an overall lower heart rate, due to lengthening of diastolic
intervals, compared with controls (Fig. 2, A–F). Using the mean
standard deviation of heart period as an indicator of heart rhythm
disturbance (“arrhythmia index”; Ocorr et al., 2007; Fink et al.,
2009), we found a dramatic increase in arrhythmias in Cdc42N17
hearts (Fig. 2 F). These effects are more dramatic than in Cdc42
heterozygotes and together strongly support a crucial require-
ment for Cdc42 in regulating adult heart function.
The defective Cdc42N17 adult hearts also showed abnor-
malities in the cellular architecture of the cardiomyocytes, as
manifest by severely misaligned myofibrils and irregularities in
the repeated Z-line pattern (Fig. 2, G–I). These structural abnor-
malities in Cdc42 mutant hearts are consistent with Cdc42’s role
in actin filament assembly, also observed in Drosophila nurse
For this purpose, we expressed a dominant-negative form of
Cdc42 (UAS-Cdc42N17; Luo et al., 1994) specifically in the
adult heart using tinC4Gal4 (a UAS-Gal4 system that drives
gene expression only in myocardial cells; Qian et al., 2005a), or
in all mesoderm using 24BGal4 (drives gene expression pan-
mesodermally; Brand and Perrimon, 1993). The UAS-GAL4
system has two parts: the GAL4 gene that encodes the yeast
transcriptional activator protein Gal4, and the upstream activa-
tion sequence (UAS), which is a short section of the promoter
region to which Gal4 specifically binds to activate gene tran-
scription (Brand and Perrimon, 1993). By using the TARGET
system (Gal4/Gal80, see Materials and methods; McGuire et al.,
2004) in combination with UASCdc42N17, we specifically inter-
fered with Cdc42 function in the adult heart without disturbing
its function in the embryo. Interference with Cdc42 function
specifically in the heart within the first week of adult life causes
a dramatic increase in pacing-induced heart failure (Fig. 1 C),
Figure 1. Genetic screen identifying Cdc42. (A) Candidate deficiency lines interacting with tin346 (susceptibility to pacing-induced heart arrest or fibrilla-
tion). (B) Genetic interaction between tinman, Cdc42, and deficiency 7721. Cdc42+/;tin+/ flies show dramatic increase in pacing-induced heart arrest
or fibrillation rate compared with Cdc42+/ or tin+/ (Chi square analysis: *, P < 0.01). (C) TARGET-mediated overexpression (see Materials and methods)
of dominant-negative Cdc42 (Cdc42N17) in the adult heart results in elevated heart dysfunction (*, P < 0.01). Each bar in B and C represents a single
experiment. n, number of flies tested.
JCB • VOLUME 193 • NUMBER 7 • 2011 1184
Figure 2. Cdc42 is required for adult heart function in flies. (A–C) Cardiac M-mode traces prepared from high speed movies of semi-intact flies. (A) M-mode
from control flies shows a regular beating pattern. (B and C) Arrhythmic heart beats are evident in flies overexpressing Cdc42N17 using tinC4-Gal4 (G) or
24BGal4 (H). (A–C) Heart period histograms. (D–F) Statistical analysis of Cdc42N17 mutant heart contractions (relative quantification [RQ] compared with
control). Disruption of Cdc42 in the adult heart results in longer diastolic but not systolic intervals (D and E) and in increased incidence of arrhythmias (F). Error
bars represent SEM. (G–I) -Actinin labeling of the adult heart (one segment). Cdc42N17 adult heart or Cdc42, tinman double heterozygotes show disruption of
cardiomyocyte myofibrillar alignment. Bars, 50 µm. (J and K) Quantification of abnormalities in Cdc42N17 and Cdc42+/;tin+/ hearts. Severity is determined
by the average number of segments with significant abnormal myofiber structure. n, number of flies tested. Unpaired Student’s t test: *, P < 0.05.
1185 Cdc42-Tin/Nkx2-5 in the heart • Qian et al.
these two potential downstream effectors, we generated
Cdc42+/;dSUR+/ and Cdc42+/;slo+/ flies. These trans-
heterozygotes showed a defective cardiac structure as deter-
mined by -Actinin staining (Fig. S2, C–H). These hearts do
not show dramatically altered heart beat intervals (Fig. S2,
I and J), but they do beat more arrhythmically than single hetero-
zygous controls, as indicated by an increased arrhythmia index
(Fig. 3 I). This suggests that Cdc42 indeed interacts with dSUR
and slo to ensure normal heart structure and function. This in-
teraction phenotype also suggests the possibility that malfunc-
tioning ion channels may contribute to the structural remodeling
(see Discussion). Interestingly, expression of dSUR is also down-
regulated in the heart with age, and old fly hearts exhibit func-
tional abnormalities, including an increased incidence of
arrhythmias and pacing-induced heart failure (Akasaka et al.,
2006; Ocorr et al., 2007), similar to what we observed in the
(young) Cdc42+/;tin+/ adult flies.
To further explore how Cdc42 interacts with tinman in
regulating dSUR expression, we took advantage of a previously
published enhancer element of dSUR (Akasaka et al., 2006) and
performed luciferase assays in Drosophila S2 cells transfected
with Cdc42 and/or tinman expression constructs. Consistent
with the previous results, the dSUR enhancer element is responsive
to cotransfection with a tinman expression construct (Fig. 3 G).
Importantly, luciferase activity is dramatically enhanced by ad-
dition of a Cdc42 construct whereas transfection of Cdc42 by
itself did not exert any effect on this enhancer (Fig. 3 G). Mutat-
ing the Tinman binding site in this enhancer abolished the re-
sponsiveness (Fig. 3 G). Conversely, addition of Cdc42 did not
enhance the transcriptional activity of another transcription fac-
tor, the GATA factor Pannier, which in turn synergizes dramati-
cally with Tinman in this assay (Fig. 3 G), as well as in vivo
(Akasaka et al., 2006). These data suggest that Cdc42 may co-
operate with Tinman (but not with Pannier) to activate the dSUR
enhancer directly rather than by acting indirectly through sepa-
rate pathways in the regulation of dSUR expression. This is con-
sistent with the idea that the changes in expression of these ion
channel genes may not be secondary to the sarcomeric defects
in Cdc42+/;tin+/ hearts. However, indirect mechanisms of
Cdc42 interaction with Tinman’s transcriptional activity cannot
be ruled out, as it is also possible that the myofibril alignment
defects are secondary to the contractility defects, but all these
considerations have to await future analysis. Based on the ge-
netic interaction of Cdc42 with tinman presented here, it is sug-
gested that Rho GTPases may represent a novel class of cardiac
disease genes and/or act as polygenic interactors with known
heart disease genes, such as tinman/Nkx2-5.
Cdc42 interacts with Nkx2-5 in
modulating adult mouse heart function
Because Cdc42 and tinman are conserved in vertebrates, we
tested whether the interaction between them is also conserved
in mice. We first generated compound Mm Cdc42del/+;Nkx2-5del/+
mice, which are viable at normal Mendelian ratios (unpublished
data), and compared them to single-heterozygous littermates.
We used high-resolution echocardiography to monitor structural
and functional aspects of the postnatal mouse heart (Fig. 4, A–E).
cells, neurons, and epithelial cells (Genova et al., 2000; Jacinto
et al., 2000; Jhaveri and Rodrigues, 2002). During Drosophila
dorsal closure, Cdc42 activates the serine/threonine protein kinase
Pak to regulate dynamic actin structure and epithelial plasticity
(Harden et al., 1996; Bahri et al., 2010). Therefore, we reasoned
that Cdc42 may act through the Pak pathway to regulate actin
filament assembly and thus myofibrillar structure in the fly heart.
To test this hypothesis, we generated Cdc42, Pak transheterozy-
gotes and examined their cardiac structure and function (Fig. S1).
Indeed, the majority of these transheterozygous hearts exhibited
heart tube abnormalities where the myofibrils were misaligned
or had gaps between the fibrils, whereas the hearts from single
heterozygotes appear wild type (Fig. S1, A–C). Furthermore, func-
tional analyses revealed that Cdc42, Pak double heterozygotes
also exhibited other contractile abnormalities, which are likely
due to the observed defects in myofibrillar organization. In con-
trast, the heart beat intervals and overall rhythmicity are not
affected (Fig. S1, D–F), compared with Cdc42’s interaction with
tinman (Fig. 2, A–F). These data are consistent with a Cdc42
interaction with Pak in regulating cardiac actin alignment and
thus the myofibrillar organization of the heart, but perhaps less so
in regulating the heart rate and rhythm.
Cdc42–tinman interaction contributes to
adult heart structure and function
To further explore the Cdc42–tinman interaction, we examined
the contractility and beating patterns in double-heterozygous
hearts. Compared with the single heterozygotes, both tin346/
Cdc423 and tin346/Df(Cdc42) flies exhibit an irregular beating pat-
tern and a tendency toward longer diastolic intervals (Fig. 3, A–C),
similar to Cdc42N17 hearts (Fig. 2, A–F). The elevated arrhythmias
are also illustrated in the broadening of the heart period distri-
bution in the double heterozygotes (Fig. 3, A and B). Thus,
combined partial loss of Cdc42 and tinman function synergisti-
cally compromises heart function. In addition, Cdc42 also shows
a synergistic interaction with tinman in establishing a regular
myofibrillar structure of the adult heart (Fig. 2, I and K). In
contrast, a transheterozygous combination of Cdc42 with
Df(2L)Exel6012, a deficiency covering the nmr/Tbx20 locus
that also interacts with tinman (Qian et al., 2008b), fails to ex-
hibit such an interaction (Fig. S1, G–L). Thus, Cdc42 seems to
engage in a specific genetic interaction with tinman to regulate
adult heart function in the adult fly.
To determine how Cdc42 and tinman interact to maintain
heart function, we examined the gene expression levels of a cadre
of cardiac-specific potential targets or effectors of the Cdc42–
tinman interaction by quantitative RT-PCR (qPCR; see Materi-
als and methods for complete list). In particular, we focused on
ion channel genes that have previously been shown to regulate
heart function in the adult fly (Bodmer, 2005; Akasaka et al.,
2006; Ocorr et al., 2007; Qian et al., 2008a). Of these candi-
dates, the two potassium channels dSUR and slowpoke were
most severely down-regulated (Fig. 3, D and E; see Fig. S2, A
and B, for examples of genes showing no changes), and they
have previously been shown to be required for normal car-
diac performance (Johnson et al., 1998; Akasaka et al., 2006).
To determine whether Cdc42 genetically interacted with
JCB • VOLUME 193 • NUMBER 7 • 2011 1186
Figure 3. Cdc42 and tinman interact to maintain normal cardiac contraction. (A and B) Representative M-mode traces showing arrhythmic heart contrac-
tions in Df(Cdc42)/+;tin346/+ (B), compared with single heterozygotes Df(Cdc42)/+ (A). (A–B) Heart period histograms. (C) Statistical analysis of heart
contraction in controls (w, tin346/+, Cdc423/+, Df(Cdc42)/+) and Cdc423/+;tin346/+ and Df(Cdc42)/+;tin346/+ flies, shown as relative quantification
(RQ). Error bars represent SEM; *, P < 0.05 (one-way ANOVA). (D and E) RQ of dSUR (A) and slowpoke (B) mRNA in 1-wk-old adult hearts (normalized to
rp49, ribosomal protein 49) relative to control (w). Double heterozygotes Df(Cdc42)/+;tin346/+, Df(Cdc42)/+;tinEC40/+, and Cdc423/+;tin346/+ showed
lower expression than tinman or Cdc42 heterozygotes, or w controls. (F) Functional analyses of Cdc42,dSUR and Cdc42,slo double heterozygotes showed
1187 Cdc42-Tin/Nkx2-5 in the heart • Qian et al.
as in the fly. This could be due to compensatory or redundant
mechanisms that may be more prevalent in mammals. Neverthe-
less, our data show that Mm Cdc42 interacts strongly with
Nkx2-5 in the mouse heart and that this genetic interaction is es-
sential for proper cardiac contraction, electrical conduction,
Screening for CDC42 gene variants in
human cohorts with heart disease
The strong evidence in fly and mouse that implicates Cdc42 as
an important determinant of normal heart function points to
CDC42 as a candidate gene for human heart disease. Mutations
in the human homologue of tinman, NKX2-5, or other partici-
pants in the cardiogenic transcriptional network, TBX5, TBX20,
and GATA4, have been associated with a variety of congenital
and adult-onset heart disease. In humans, the CDC42 locus
maps to chromosome 1p36. Monosomy 1p36 is the most com-
mon terminal deletion syndrome and results in mental retarda-
tion and multiple congenital anomalies, including atrial septal
defects (ASD), ventricular septal defects (VSD), patent ductus
arteriosus (PDA), and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). Loss of
CDC42 could possibly account for the cardiac defects of this
syndrome, as well as for cases in which these defects occur in
isolation. We performed mutation screening of the CDC42 gene
in two heart disease patient populations from Houston (J. Towbin)
and Sydney (D. Fatkin).
In the Houston study, 331 subjects with heart disease, in-
cluding 96 probands with dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), 48
with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), 91 with left ven-
tricular noncompaction (LVNC), and 96 with congenital heart
disease (CHD), as well as over 400 controls (over 800 chro-
mosomes), were examined for potential variants in the human
CDC42 gene (GenBank/EMBL/DDBJ accession no. NM_001791;
Table I). Seven nonsynonymous and seven synonymous vari-
ants and four intronic variants were identified. Six out of the
seven nonsynonymous variants were polymorphic and identi-
fied in subjects and controls. A single rare nonsynonymous vari-
ant, c.539A>G, which is predicted to result in an amino acid
change of T125A, was not detected in over 300 Caucasian and
over 100 Hispanic controls (Table I). This variant was found in
a sporadic CHD patient with an atrial septal defect (ASD) and a
patent ductus arteriosus (PDA). The parents did not participate
in the study. In the Sydney study, over 300 heart disease patients
(AF, CHD, LVNC) and 100 controls were examined (Table II),
with no apparent disease-causing mutations identified. Some X
synonymous variants were identified and no nonsynonymous
variants were found.
These data indicate that despite the clear biological signif-
icance of Cdc42 in the heart, coding sequence variants in the
CDC42 gene are not a common cause of CHD or adult heart
disease. A possible reason is that this small GTPase is extremely
Mm Cdc42+/+;Nkx2-5+/+, Mm Cdc42+/+;Nkx2-5del/+, Mm
Cdc42del/+;Nkx2-5+/+, and Mm Cdc42del/+;Nkx2-5del/+ adult mice
were subjected to serial imaging at 4–12 wk after birth. At 4 wk
of age, cardiac function in single heterozygotes (MmCdc42del/+
or Nkx2-5del/+) was not significantly different from wild-type lit-
termates, whereas double heterozygotes showed declining heart
function as indicated by decreased fraction of blood ejected
from the left ventricle with each contraction (ejection fraction,
EF), the fractional shortening of the ventricular chamber (frac-
tional shortening, FS), volume of blood ejected with each heart
beat (stroke volume, SV), and cardiac output (CO; see Fig. 4,
A–D for quantification and Fig. 4 E for representative M-modes
of the four genotypes). As the mice aged, single heterozygotes
progressively exhibited weakened pumping ability, whereas
double heterozygotes always performed worse than their single-
heterozygous littermates (Fig. 4, A–D). Collectively, these re-
sults demonstrate that cardiac output, as assessed by multiple
imaging parameters, is perturbed in Cdc42 heterozygous mice,
and as expected in Nkx2-5 heterozygotes. Compellingly, these
defects are markedly worse when the two alleles are combined
in trans, suggesting that Cdc42 and Nkx2-5 synergistically reg-
ulate cardiac output and function in the mouse adult heart.
Mouse models of Nkx2-5 deficiency revealed a critical
role for Nkx2-5 in establishing and maintaining proper cardiac
conduction system function (Pashmforoush et al., 2004; Briggs
et al., 2008; Takeda et al., 2009), and human mutations in Nkx2-5
cause conduction-system dysfunction (Schott et al., 1998). Given
the interaction between tinman and Cdc42 that we identified
in the fly, we hypothesized that Nkx2-5 also interacts with
Cdc42 in regulating the electrical activity of adult mouse heart.
Therefore, we performed surface electrocardiography (ECG)
and found that the average heart rate of single and double hetero-
zygotes is not significantly different from that of wild-type
mice, nor is there any difference in the delay between atrial and
ventricular depolarization as indicated by the PR interval (Fig. 4 F).
However, combined reduction of Cdc42 and Nkx2-5 resulted in
prolonged atrial depolarization manifested by increased P dura-
tion (Fig. 4 F). The QRS complex, the portion of an ECG that
corresponds to the depolarization of the right and left ventricles,
was also significantly prolonged in double heterozygotes and
was associated with prolongation of the QT and QTc intervals
(Fig. 4 F). We also noticed that the double heterozygotes showed
signs of right bundle branch block based upon S wave depres-
sion and the delays, as calculated in Fig. 4 F, which was not ob-
served in single heterozygotes or wild-type controls. We then
examined cardiac structure and fibrosis of these adult mice by
performing the standard hematoxylin and eosin (H&E) and
Masson Trichrome stainings, but did not observe any consistent
differences among different genotypes (unpublished data and
Fig. S3). Thus, compound heterozygosity for Nkx2-5 and Cdc42
does not alter cardiac morphology in the mouse as significantly
a significant increase in the arrhythmia index. (G) Luciferase assay using the dSUR T3 enhancer (Akasaka et al., 2006). Note the increased relative lu-
ciferase activity (RLA) by transfection of Tin was further enhanced by cotransfection with Cdc42 or Pnr, but not when Pnr and Cdc42 were cotransfected.
Mutation of the Tin site abolished the responsiveness. Experiments were repeated three times. Error bars represent SEM. Unpaired Student’s t test: *, P <
0.05; **, P < 0.01.
JCB • VOLUME 193 • NUMBER 7 • 2011 1188
Cdc42 is a direct target of miR-1 that is
negatively regulated by Nkx2-5
Examination of the upstream regulatory region of mouse miR-1
revealed the presence of four Nkx2-5 consensus binding sites
(Fig. 5 B). This made us wonder whether Cdc42 is regulated by
miR-1, which would provide a possible mechanism for the ge-
netic interaction between Tinman/Nkx2-5 and Cdc42. Indeed,
conserved, which does not allow for any sequence variation re-
sulting in an amino acid change to be tolerated, because most
may result in lethality. Future mutation screening in intronic
and regulatory regions of this gene, resulting in only partial loss
of function, and studies in larger patient cohorts will likely pro-
vide further insights into the potential role of CDC42 as a new
human heart disease gene.
Figure 4. Compound haploinsufficiency of mouse Cdc42 (MmCdc42) and Nkx2-5 resulted in defective cardiac contraction and electrophysiological
function. (A–D) Histograms showing echocardiographic parameters of MmCdc42+/+;Nkx2-5+/+, MmCdc42+/+;Nkx2-5del/+, MmCdc42del/+;Nkx2-5+/+, and
MmCdc42del/+;Nkx2-5del/+ adult mice at 4, 8, and 12 wk. Combined reduction of MmCdc42 and Nkx2-5 worsened heart function shown as (A) lower
fraction shortening (FS), (B) ejection fraction (EF), (C) stroke volume (SV), and (D) cardiac output (CO) at all time points. Unpaired Student’s t test (relative to
wild type): *, P < 0.05; **, P < 0.01. (E) Representative M-mode echocardiograms illustrate decrease in contractility of MmCdc42del/+;Nkx2-5del/+ hearts
(right panel, larger systole) compared with controls. (F) Table with electrocardiographic parameters of MmCdc42 and Nkx2-5 combinations in adult mice
(± SEM). One-way ANOVA: *, P < 0.05; **, P < 0.01.
Cdc42-Tin/Nkx2-5 in the heart • Qian et al.
cotransfected with Nkx2-5 into HL-1 cells (Fig. 5 B). Mutations
of the Nkx2.5 binding sites in the miR-1 enhancer abolished
Nkx2-5 responsiveness (Fig. 5 B), suggesting that Nkx2-5 re-
presses miR-1 by directly binding to this enhancer.
Next, we tested whether miR-1 directly regulates Cdc42
by transfecting HL-1 cells with miR-1 mimics (chemically syn-
thesized double-stranded oligonucleotides that mimic the func-
tion of endogenous mature miR-1) and miR-1 inhibitors (modified
antisense oligoribonucleotides that inhibit miR-1 function). Over-
expression of miR-1 resulted in decreased endogenous Cdc42
expression, whereas inhibition of miR-1 caused an increased
expression of Cdc42 (Fig. 5 D), which is consistent with the pres-
ence of a conserved miR-1 binding site in the Cdc42 3-UTR
(Fig. 5 G). To test whether miR-1 is capable of directly repress-
ing Cdc42 via this site, the Cdc42 3-UTR was inserted into the
3-UTR of a luciferase reporter, downstream of the coding region.
we identified a miR-1 consensus target site in the 3-UTR of
Cdc42 (Fig. 5 G, see below).
To determine whether Nkx2-5 is capable of regulating
miR-1 transcription we transfected an Nkx2-5 expression con-
struct into HL-1 cells, a line derived from atrial cardiomyocytes
(Claycomb et al., 1998). We found a decrease in miR-1 levels
detected by qPCR (Fig. 5 A). Similar results were obtained
when we transfected Nkx2-5 into primary cardiomyocytes that
were directly isolated from neonatal hearts (not depicted). This
suggests that Nkx2-5 negatively regulates miR-1 in cardiomyo-
cytes. Furthermore, we identified four conserved Nkx2-5 bind-
ing sites in the 2.6-kb minimal enhancer region of miR-1 (Fig. 5 B).
To test whether Nkx2-5 represses miR-1 by binding to these
sites, the miR-1 enhancer was cloned upstream of the coding
region of a luciferase reporter. A decrease in luciferase activ-
ity was observed when the constitutively active reporter was
Table I. Nonsynonymous or synonymous variants identified in CDC42 (NM_001791) in probands either with DCM, HCM, LVNC, or congenital
heart diseases (Houston study)
(n = 96)
(n = 48)
(n = 96)
(n = 91)
c.257G>CE31Q NP 46 11 5229
c.271+6 T>GIntron 3 splice ds NP2500
c.272-9 insT Intron3 splice asNP4000
c.272-7 T>C Intron3 splice as NP5208
c.272-2 T>CIntron3 splice as NP6043
c.317 T>CY51HNP1 2214 10
c.525 G>AR120K NP20 490
c.539 A>G T125ARare variant0010
c.730 T>GC188W NP30 1012
DCM, dilated cardiac myopathy; HCM, hypertrophic cardiac myopathy; LVNC, left ventricular noncompaction; CHD, congenital heart disease; S, synonymous
change; NP, nonsynonymous polymorphism.
JCB • VOLUME 193 • NUMBER 7 • 2011 1190
may not always be conserved (Hyun et al., 2009; unpublished
data), even though the pathway overall is likely conserved,
as in this case and in a recent report (King et al., 2011). Thus,
it remains to be determined how microRNAs regulate down-
stream effectors (such as Cdc42; Fig. 6 E), directly by cryptic
sites or via an unknown possibly indirect mechanism. However,
we did find two consensus binding sites for Tinman within the
enhancer of fly miR-1, and luciferase assays in S2 cells revealed
that these two sites are responsible for the regulation of fly
miR-1 by Tinman (Fig. S5). Taken together, these data sug-
gest a functionally conserved regulatory pathway involving
tinman–miR-1–Cdc42 in establishing cardiac functionality, al-
though some aspects of the molecular mechanisms involved
may be different between flies and vertebrates, which could also
explain the different severity in phenotypes between flies and
mice in our study.
Drosophila has been successfully used to study regulatory ge-
netic networks of inductive signals and transcription factors that
determine cardiac specification and morphogenesis, but the
genetic control of cardiac physiology is only beginning to be
investigated. Using a cardiac performance-based genetic screen,
we discovered a novel genetic interaction between Cdc42 and
the NK homeobox gene tinman in regulating cardiac function in
the fly. We have identified a heretofore-unknown requirement
for the Rho GTPase Cdc42 in regulating the establishment of
cardiac function in the adult fly. Significantly, this interaction is
conserved in mice, where combined reduction of Cdc42 and
Nkx2-5 caused defects in heart contraction, rhythm, and electro-
physiological function. Based on the discovery of the interac-
tion between this Rho GTPase with a cardiogenic transcription
factor in maintaining proper cardiac function, it is conceivable
that other genetic interactors and potential polygenic contribu-
tors to heart disease traits can be identified using the fly as a
Cdc42 is a well-characterized GTPase, and has been widely
studied in different organs and tissues, ranging from worms to
humans. Because Cdc42 was shown to be involved in regulation
of the actin/myosin cytoskeleton in the cells of various organ-
isms, we reasoned that Cdc42 might also control cardiac cell
morphogenesis. In Drosophila and mouse we found that complete
Transfection of the Cdc42 3-UTR luciferase reporter with
miR-1 mimic into HL-1 cells results in a decrease in luciferase
activity, whereas cotransfection with miR-1 inhibitor increases
luciferase activity (Fig. 5 G). A gradient of miR-1 was used to con-
firm the luciferase activity was dose responsive (Fig. S4 A). Muta-
tions of the miR-1 binding site in the Cdc42 3-UTR abolished
miR-1 responsiveness (Fig. 5 G), suggesting that miR-1 represses
Cdc42 by physically binding to its 3-UTR.
We extracted RNA and protein from transgenic mice in
which miR-1 was overexpressed in the adult heart via the
-MHC promoter (-MHC–miR-1; unpublished mice from the
Srivastava laboratory) and examined Cdc42 mRNA and protein
levels. Consistently, miR-1 transgenic hearts showed signifi-
cantly reduced Cdc42 mRNA and protein levels (Fig. 5, E and F),
suggesting a repressive relationship between miR-1 and Cdc42
in vivo. We did not observe increased Cdc42 expression in miR-
1-2 knockout hearts, which might be due to the incomplete de-
pletion of miR-1 expression because of the intact miR-1-1 locus
(Zhao et al., 2007; unpublished data). Furthermore, we deter-
mined miR-1 levels in Nkx2.5 knockout embryos (E9.5) by
qPCR and found an increase in miR-1 levels compared with litter-
mate controls (Fig. 5 C). These data provide further evidence
that the genetic interaction between Nkx2-5 and Cdc42 is medi-
ated by miR-1.
We then wondered whether the genetic interaction be-
tween tinman and Cdc42 in Drosophila is also governed by a
double-inhibitory mechanism involving the fly homologue of
miR-1. We found that cardiac-specific overexpression of miR-1
causes an increase in arrhythmias (Fig. 6, A–D), comparable to
cardiac expression of dominant-negative Cdc42N17 (Fig. 2). In addi-
tion, fly hearts with excessive cardiac miR-1 expression exhibit
reduced levels of Cdc42 and slo mRNA in the heart (Fig. 6 E),
suggesting that miR-1’s influence on heart function includes
inhibition of Cdc42 and one or more potassium channels. In con-
trast to the mouse, however, we did not identify any miR-1
binding sites in the 3-UTR of fly Cdc42. To test whether
fly Cdc42 regulation by miR-1 is through binding to “seedless”
3’-UTR sequences that lack predicted microRNA recognition
elements (Bamshad et al., 1997), we cloned fly Cdc42 3-UTR
into the 3-UTR of a luciferase reporter and performed luciferase
assays in Drosophila S2 cells. However, we did not observe
consistent and reproducible repression in the presence of miR-1
(Fig. S4 B). Recent evidence suggests that microRNA target sites
Table II. Cdc42 variants identified in 328 individuals with adult and congenital heart disease (Sydney study)
LocationVariant Amino acid
Patient group Published SNP
AF (n = 100)CHD (n = 200)LVNC (n = 28)
AF, atrial fibrillation; CHD, congenital heart disease; LVNC, left ventricular noncompaction; NA, not available; SNP, single nucleotide polymorphism.
1191 Cdc42-Tin/Nkx2-5 in the heart • Qian et al.
Figure 5. MmCdc42 is a direct target of miR-1 that is negatively regulated by Nkx2-5. (A) Relative levels (RQ) of miR-1 expression determined by qPCR in
HL-1 cells electroporated with Nkx2-5 compared to control (GFP). (B) A 2.6-kb miR-1-1 enhancer luciferase construct containing four wild-type or mutated
Nkx2-5 sites (Zhao et al., 2005) was cotransfected with Nkx2-5. (C) qPCR of miR-1 from Nkx2-5del/del mouse embryos (E9.5) relative to wild-type litter-
mate controls. (D) qPCR of Cdc42 mRNA levels from HL-1 cells transfected with miR-1 mimic or miR-1 inhibitor. Experiments were done in three biological
triplicates and technical quadruplicates. (E) qPCR of MmCdc42 mRNA from 4 miR-1 transgenic mouse hearts (MHC-miR-1) compared with four littermate
controls. (F) Western blot of MmCdc42 protein from MHC-miR-1 transgenic and control mice. (G) RLA from cells cotransfected with a luciferase reporter—
containing wild-type or mutated miR-1 target site in the Cdc42 3UTR—and a miR-1 mimic or inhibitor. Experiments (each condition) were repeated three
times with technical quadruplicates. Unpaired Student’s t test: *, P < 0.05; **, P < 0.01.
JCB • VOLUME 193 • NUMBER 7 • 2011 1192
with a previous report in a tissue culture model for cardiac hyper-
trophy showing that sarcomere units are misassembled in cul-
tured rat cardiomyocytes when Cdc42 expression is disrupted
(Nagai et al., 2003; Brown et al., 2006). In addition, Cdc42 in
Drosophila interacts with a known downstream effector of Cdc42,
Pak, which participates in actin filament assembly and dynamics
(Harden et al., 1996; Bahri et al., 2010), thus consistent with a
possible role for Cdc42 in myofibrillar organization.
Similar to our Cdc42;Nkx2-5 compound heterozygote
analysis, it has been shown that mice transheterozygous for
loss-of-function alleles of Nkx2-5 and Tbx5 also exhibit a syner-
gistic interaction, in particular with respect to the development
of the cardiac conduction system (Moskowitz et al., 2007). It is
therefore likely that other cardiac transcription factors in com-
bination with new genes will reveal similar patterns of interac-
tions in flies and mammals. Although different model organisms
have been used to study cardiac disease, the ability to investi-
gate polygenic traits underlying these diseases in a systematic
loss of Cdc42 in the heart leads to defects in cardiac morpho-
genesis (unpublished data). In the adult heart, Cdc42 was previ-
ously shown to be associated with cardiac myocyte hypertrophy
(Clerk and Sugden, 2000; Pandur et al., 2002; Sellin et al., 2006).
Recent work shows that Cdc42 plays a protective role against
hypertrophy, as conditional deletion of Cdc42 in the adult heart led
to greater cardiac hypertrophy and increased incidence of heart
failure (Maillet et al., 2009). Interestingly, our findings show that
interference with Cdc42 function in the adult fly heart via expres-
sion of a dominant-negative form of Cdc42 is sufficient to induce
functional and morphological defects, suggesting that, in addi-
tion to interacting with tinman, Cdc42 itself is essential for main-
taining normal adult heart structure and function. The specific
differences between the fly and the mouse phenotypes in these
studies may be attributed to differences in assays as well as to
evolutionary changes of Cdc42 function from insects to verte-
brates. However, the fact that Cdc42 adult-specific mutant fly
hearts are defective in Z-line/myofibril assembly is consistent
Figure 6. Overexpression of miR-1 causes arrhythmias in the adult fly heart. (A) M-mode traces illustrate arrhythmic heart contractions with cardiac
miR-1 overexpression (tinC4Gal4/UASmiR-1). (B–D) Statistical analysis of heart contraction in miR-1–overexpressing adult hearts. (E) Cardiac qPCR of fly
Cdc42 (DmCdc42) and potassium channels slowpoke (slo) with tinC4Gal4/UASmiR-1. Heart-specific overexpression of miR-1 resulted in reduced cardiac
expression of Cdc42 and slo. *, P < 0.05.
1193Cdc42-Tin/Nkx2-5 in the heart • Qian et al.
In conclusion, we have used the power of Drosophila ge-
netics to uncover a new, conserved genetic pathway, linking genes
with critical heart functions, tinman/Nkx2-5, miR-1, and Cdc42,
to a novel network regulating adult heart physiology and perfor-
mance. With the fly as a screening platform, it is thus possible to
identify new polygenic contributors that ensure normal cardiac
function relevant to human heart disease.
Materials and methods
The following mutant stocks were used: Cdc423/FM6 (Boutros et al., 1998);
tin346/TM3-ftz-lacZ (Azpiazu and Frasch, 1993); tinEC40/TM3, Df(3R)tinGC14
(Bodmer, 1993); Pak6/TM3,Sb (Pehlivan et al., 1999); Df(2L)Exel9032/
Cyo (indicated as dSUR/+), Df(3R)BSC397/TM3,Sb (indicated as slo/+),
Df(2L)Exel6012 (Qian et al., 2005b; Exelixis deficiency deleting both nmr1
and nmr2, also indicated as Df(nmr)), and Df(1)Exel6253 (Exelixis deficiency
deleting the whole genomic region of Cdc42, also indicated as Df(Cdc42)).
Wild-type control flies are w1118. Overexpression of transgenes was achieved
using the UAS-Gal4 system (Brand and Perrimon, 1993). The following
Gal4 and UAS lines were used: twi-Gal4 (twi>; Greig and Akam, 1993),
24B-Gal4 (24B>; Brand and Perrimon, 1993), the double combination twi-
Gal4;24B-Gal4 (twi24B>; pan-mesodermal expression; Lockwood and
Bodmer, 2002), tinC4-Gal4 (Lo and Frasch, 2001), and UAS-Cdc42N17 (Luo
et al., 1994). We used TARGET to temporally and spatially activate gene ex-
pression (McGuire et al., 2004). In brief, we raised flies (with Gal4, Gal80-
ts, and UAS constructs) at 18°C before eclosion; after eclosion we raised
adult flies at 29°C for 1 wk and then performed heart function assays.
Mice harboring a loss-of-function allele for Nkx2-5 (Nkx2-5del/+/Nkx2.5tm1Siz)
have been described previously (Tanaka et al., 1999). Mice harboring a
floxed allele of Cdc42 (Cdc42tm1Yizh) have also been described previously
(Chen et al., 2006). Cdc42 males were bred to Mef2c-AHF-cre (Verzi et al.,
2005) females to enable germ line deletion of Cdc42 (Cdc42del/+), and off-
spring that did not inherit the Cre allele were then mated to Nkx2.5 hetero-
zygous animals to generate compound heterozygous and single heterozygous
offspring. For all functional studies detailed below, littermates of each indi-
cated genotype were analyzed.
For fly heart immunohistochemistry, antibody staining was performed as
described previously (Han et al., 2002). In brief, after micro-dissection, fly
hearts were fixed in 4% PFA overnight at 4°C. After blocking in 10% BSA
(Sigma-Aldrich)/PBS for 1 h, fly hearts were incubated in primary antibodies
for 1 h, washed three times (15 min each) with PBT (PBS + 0.5% Triton), and
then incubated in secondary antibodies for 1 h. After washing 3 × 15 min in
PBT, fly hearts were mounted in VectaShield (Vector Laboratories). Cy3- or
FITC-conjugated secondary antibodies (Jackson ImmunoResearch Laborato-
ries, Inc.) were used for fluorescent confocal microscopy. All the secondary
antibodies were used at 1:200. Fly heart preparations were analyzed using
a confocal microscope (model LSM510; Carl Zeiss). Mouse anti–-Actinin
(Saide et al., 1989) was used in this study. For mouse heart immunohisto-
chemistry, after perfusion fix the heart was removed and fixed by immersion
in 4% PFA in PBS (diluted from 20% PFA stock; Electron Microscopy Sciences)
and routinely processed and paraffin embedded. 5-µm sections were stained
with hematoxylin and eosin (H&E) and Masson Trichrome and analyzed for
regular morphology and fibrosis. Images were acquired by Zeiss LSM soft-
ware (for confocal images) or Image-Pro Plus 5.1 (for regular IHC images).
Adobe Photoshop was used for image processing; contrast and brightness
were adjusted for better visualization.
Electrical pacing in flies
The electrical pacing was conducted as described previously (Wessells and
Bodmer, 2004; Wessells et al., 2004). In brief, 50–100 flies were paced
with a square wave stimulator at 40 V and 6 Hz for 30 s and scored for heart
failure rate, defined as the percentage of flies that either exhibit cardiac arrest
or continuous fibrillation immediately after pacing.
Image analysis and M-mode traces on semi-intact fly preparations
Procedures used were as described previously (Ocorr et al., 2007; Fink et al.,
2009). In brief, flies were anesthetized and the head, ventral thorax, and
fashion in the adult is limited. Here, we provide evidence that
rigorous screening for modifiers of heart disease can be achieved
using Drosophila, leading to identification of similar polygenic
trait interactions in mammals.
The genetic relationship between fly Cdc42 with the car-
diac determinant tinman in regulating adult heart contraction
may occur, in part, via modulation of potassium channel gene
expression, dSUR and slo, which have previously been shown to
be critical regulators of heart function (Johnson et al., 1998;
Akasaka et al., 2006). Indeed, Cdc42-dSUR or –slo transhetero-
zygotes show a strong interaction reflected in increased ar-
rhythmias. Interestingly, these transheterozygotes also exhibit
disturbances in myofibrillar organization, suggesting these ion
channel abnormalities somehow also produce sarcomeric de-
fects, perhaps via a secondary structural remodeling effect.
Although there is increasing evidence of such remodeling pro-
cesses being affected by ion channel defects (unpublished data),
the underlying mechanism is not yet understood.
A strong interaction was also observed between the mouse
homologues of Cdc42 and Nkx2-5 in adult heart function. Most
interestingly, double haploinsufficiency of Cdc42 and Nkx2-5
led to elongated QRS intervals, which is typical of abnormal
conduction along the atrio-ventricular bundle, bundle branches,
and Purkinje fibers. The observed elongated QT intervals in
compound heterozygotes are also characteristic of long-QT
syndrome in humans. These findings suggest a possible contri-
bution of compound haploinsufficiency of Cdc42 and Nkx2-5 in
human cardiac conduction diseases.
While attempting to elucidate the mechanistic link be-
tween Cdc42 and Nkx2-5, we found that miR-1 directly re-
presses Cdc42 and that miR-1 itself can be repressed by Nkx2.5
expression. miR-1 is the first microRNA identified in the heart
and plays a conserved role in cardiac morphogenesis, cell cycle,
and conduction (Zhao et al., 2005, 2007). miR-1 null mutant
mice showed cardiac conduction defects including widened
QRS complex and prolonged QT intervals (Zhao et al., 2007),
which is also affected in Cdc42;Nkx2-5 double-heterozygous
mice. We speculate that loss or gain of miR-1 function causes
an imbalance in gene expression in the heart, including that of
Cdc42. Decreasing the copy number of the direct miR-1 target
Cdc42, and that of a direct transcriptional miR-1 repressor,
Nkx2-5, apparently destroys a delicate balance in the adult
heart, tipping it toward deregulated cardiac function. This does
not rule out that other mechanisms are also involved in the ge-
netic interaction between Cdc42 and Nkx2-5. Because Cdc42 is
a direct target of miR-1 and has a crucial function in modulating
hypertrophic responses in the mouse, it will be interesting to
test whether miR-1 and other microRNAs play a direct role in
adult cardiac hypertrophy. Interestingly, Cdc42 was also found
to be a target of miR-133, which is involved in cardiac hyper-
trophy (Carè et al., 2007). Thus, the RhoGTPase Cdc42 appears to
be directly regulated by two major cardiac microRNAs that are
involved in controlling cardiac function and hypertrophy. The
synergistic transcriptional activation of the dSUR enhancer by
Tinman and Cdc42 in vitro (Fig. 3 G) is consistent with the idea
that Cdc42 can act in a coactivating mechanism with Tinman,
but this remains to be further investigated.
JCB • VOLUME 193 • NUMBER 7 • 2011 1194
Cell culture, transfection, and luciferase assay
HL-1 cells were maintained in Calycomb Medium supplemented with 100 µM
norepinephrine, 10% FBS, and 4 mM l-glutamine. Cells were main-
tained at 37°C in a humidified atmosphere of 5% CO2/95% air. Lipo-
fectamine 2000 (Invitrogen)–mediated transfection was performed
according to Invitrogen’s protocol. miR-1 mimic and inhibitor were pur-
chased from Thermo Fisher Scientific. For each transfection in one well of
a six-well plate, 40 pmol of mimic or inhibitor was used. For plasmid trans-
fection, 100 ng of plasmid was transfected in one well of a six-well plate
using the Amaxa Nucleofection kit (Lonza) per the manufacturer’s protocol.
Luciferase assays were performed as described previously (Zhao et al.,
2005) with the Dual-Luciferase Reporter Assay System (Promega). Cdc42
3-UTR was cloned from mouse genomic DNA with the following primers:
5-ACTAGTACGCATCTCCAGAGCCCTTTCTGC-3 and 5-AAGCTTTAG-
CCCTGACTGGTCCCCATGTTGG-3. Amplified DNA was cloned into
pCRII vector and subsequently cloned into pMIR-REPORT vector (Invitro-
gen). Site-directed PCR-mediated mutagenesis was performed using the
QuickChange II XL Site-Directed Mutagenesis kit (Agilent Technologies).
Plasmids containing Tinman and Nkx2.5 have been described previously
(Akasaka et al., 2006; Takeuchi and Bruneau, 2009). Tinman cDNA was
finally inserted in pUAST vector; Nkx2-5 cDNA was finally inserted in
pCDNA3.1 vector. Luciferase constructs containing miR-1 enhancer and
dSUR enhancer were described previously (Zhao et al., 2005; Akasaka
et al., 2006).
Western blots were performed as described previously (Zhao et al., 2005).
Rabbit anti-Cdc42 (Cell Signaling Technology) and rabbit anti-GAPDH
(Santa Cruz Biotechnology, Inc.) were both used at a 1:1,000 dilution for
Western blots. All Western blots were quantified using AlphaImager soft-
ware from Alpha Innovations.
Mean, standard deviation, and standard error of the mean were calcu-
lated. Error bars are represented as standard error of the mean. Sample
numbers were indicated in corresponding figures. Comparisons between
groups were made by one-way ANOVA or unpaired two-tails assuming
equal variance t test, as applicable. For fly pacing experiments, 2 test
Human subjects and DNA sequence analysis
Houston study. The study population from Baylor College of Medicine in-
cluded 331 unrelated pediatric probands either sporadic or familial cases
of heart disease including 96 individuals with dilated cardiomyopathy
(DCM), 48 individuals with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), 96 indi-
viduals with congenital heart disease (CHD), and 91 individuals with either
isolated or nonisolated left ventricular noncompaction (LVNC; Table I). All
patients were evaluated by physical examination, chest radiography, electro-
cardiography, echocardiography, cardiac magnetic resonance imaging
(cMRI), and angiography. Left ventricular size and function was evaluated
by M-mode and two-dimensional echocardiography, Doppler, and color
Doppler analyses. Further details on heart function measures are as de-
scribed in Qian et al. (2008b). All subjects or their guardians provided
written informed consent. Blood for EBV-transformed lymphoblastoid cell
lines and DNA extraction was obtained, as regulated by the Baylor College
of Medicine Institutional Review Board. DNA was extracted either directly
from blood or from cultured cells using the Puregene DNA Isolation kit
(Genetra Systems) according to the manufacturer’s protocol. Primers were
designed in to the intron sequences flanking coding exons of CDC42
(Genbank/EMBL/DDBJ accession no. NM_001791). Protein encoding
amplicons were amplified by polymerase chain reaction using genomic
DNA, as described previously (Qian et al., 2008b). PCR products were
purified and sequenced by automated sequencing using a DNA sequencer
(ABI 3730; Applied Biosystems) and Big Dye terminator chemistry (version
3.1) according to the manufacturer’s instructions. The only rare variant we
found was T125A in a CHD patient. Over 300 Caucasian and >100 His-
panic controls were analyzed for all variants identified.
Sydney study. The population study in Australia was comprised of
100 individuals with adult-onset familial atrial fibrillation (AF), 200 individ-
uals with CHD, comprised of ventricular septal defect (VSD), n = 113;
atrial septal defect (ASD), n = 59; patent ductus arteriosis (PDA), n = 28,
and 28 individuals with isolated or syndromic LVNC. Seven sequence vari-
ants were identified, including four synonymous amino acid substitutions
and three intronic variants. Five of these variants have been reported previ-
ously and two were novel (Table II). Of note, the T125A variant from the
ventral abdominal cuticle were removed. All internal organs except the heart
were removed as well as any abdominal fat. Dissections were done under
oxygenated saline (108 mM Na+, 5 mM K+, 2 mM Ca2+, 8 mM MgCl2, 1 mM
NaH2PO4, 4 mM NaHCO3, 10 mM sucrose, 5 mM trehalose, and 5 mM
Hepes, pH 7.1). These semi-intact preparations (Ocorr et al., 2009; Vogler
and Ocorr, 2009) were allowed to equilibrate with oxygenation for 10–20
min before filming. These procedures were performed at room temperature.
Image capture of heart contractions was performed using an EM-CCD digital
camera (Hamamatsu Photonics) on a microscope (model DM LFSA; Leica)
using direct immersion lenses. High-speed movies taken at rates of 100–200
frames per second were acquired and contrast enhanced using Simple PCI
imaging software (Compix, Inc.). Movie analysis and M-mode generation
was performed using a MatLab-based image analysis program (Ocorr et al.,
2007, 2009; Fink et al., 2009; Vogler and Ocorr, 2009).
The mouse protocol was approved by institutional guidelines (UCSF). All
analyses were performed in a blinded fashion for genotype and intervention.
Mice were anesthetized with 2.4% isoflurane/97.6% oxygen and placed in
a supine position on a heating pad (37°C). Echocardiography was per-
formed by a High-Resolution Micro-Imaging System (Vevo 770; VisualSonics)
with a 15-MHz linear array ultrasound transducer. The left ventricle (LV) was
assessed in both parasternal long-axis and short-axis views at a frame rate of
120 Hz. End-systole or end-diastole was defined as the phase in which the
smallest or largest area of LV, respectively, was obtained. Left ventricular end-
systolic diameter (LVESD) and left ventricular end-diastolic diameter (LVEDD)
were measured from the LV M-mode tracing with a sweep speed of 50 mm/s
at the papillary muscle level.
For surface electrocardiography, mice were anesthetized with 1.75% isoflu-
rane at a core temperature of 37–38°C. Four needle electrodes (AD Instru-
ments) were placed subcutaneously in standard limb lead configurations. For
each mouse, 10–20 s of continuous signals were sampled at 10 KHz in each
lead configuration using a PowerLab4/30 interface (AD Instruments). Data
analysis was performed offline using electronic calipers on averaged beats
(Chart5Pro v5.4.2; AD Instruments). The QRS interval was measured from the
onset of the Q-wave to the isoelectric point preceding the first, rapid repolar-
ization wave. The QT interval was measured from the onset of the Q-wave to
the end of the second, slower repolarization wave. The measured QT interval
was corrected for heart rate using the rodent correction formula, QTc =
Quantitative real-time PCR (qPCR)
For fly qPCR, total RNA was extracted from 20 dissected hearts of 1-wk-old
adult females by using TRIzol (Invitrogen). After lysis with TRIzol followed
by phase separation, the aqueous phase was subjected to RNA extraction
(Mini RNA Isolation kit; Zymo Research) with on-column DNaseI treatment
(QIAGEN). After RNA extraction with RNase-free water, the first-strand
cDNA was immediately transcribed with SuperScript III (Invitrogen) by
using oligo(dT) primer, followed by the second-strand synthesis with DNA
polymerase I, E. coli DNA ligase, and RNase H. Quantitative PCR was
performed using the LightCycler FastStart DNA Master PLUS SYBR Green I
kit (Roche). The primer sets were as follows: for rp49, 5-GACGCTTCAAG-
GGACAGTATCTG-3 and 5-AAACGCGGTTCTGCATGAG-3; for dSUR,
5-CATCACCATTGCCCATCGTCT-3 and 5-CGCCCTTCTCCAGTAAACC-3;
for slowpoke, 5-GCCAACAGATCAGGTATTCGT-3 and 5-GCGCTACA-
CAGTAACAATCA-3; for cdc42, 5-CTACACACTGGGCCTGTTC-3 and
5-TTTGGCAATGGTGTGTAATC-3. The following gene expressions did
not show any consistent and/or significant difference among the geno-
types we tested: potassium channel genes: shaker, shaker-like, seizure,
Inwardly rectifying potassium channel (Ir), and KCNQ; calcium channel
and exchanger genes: cacophony, Na/Ca-exchange protein (calx),
Inositol 1,4,5,-tris-phosphate receptor (Itp-r83A), and Na+-driven anion
exchanger 1 (Ndae1).
For mouse qPCR, RNA was extracted by TRizol method (Invitrogen)
from individual hearts. RT-PCR was performed using the Superscript III First-
Strand Synthesis System (Invitrogen). qPCR was performed using the ABI
7900HT system (TaqMan; Applied Biosystems), per the manufacturer’s pro-
tocols. Optimized primers from Taqman Gene Expression Array were used.
miRNA RT was conducted using the Taqman MicroRNA Reverse Transcrip-
tion kit (Applied Biosystems). miRNA real-time PCR (qRT-PCR) was per-
formed per the manufacturer’s protocols by using primers from Taqman
MicroRNA Assays (Applied Biosystems). Expression levels were normal-
ized to GAPDH expression and miR-16 (microRNA qPCR).
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Houston study was not detected in any DNA samples from the 328 heart
disease patients or in samples from 100 healthy Caucasian volunteers
(Table II). These patient populations were recruited from St. Vincent’s Hos-
pital, Darlinghurst, the Kids Heart Research DNA Bank at The Children’s
Hospital at Westmead, the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Camperdown,
and the National Australian Childhood Cardiomyopathy Study. 100
healthy Caucasian volunteers comprised a control group. All participants
gave informed written consent and study protocols were approved by the
relevant institutional Human Research Ethics Committees.
DNA was isolated from patient blood samples using conventional tech-
niques. Protein-coding sequences and adjacent intronic sequences of the
CDC42 gene were amplified by polymerase chain reaction from genomic
DNA using primers derived from intron sequences. Amplimers were puri-
fied and sequenced using the Big Dye terminator and were analyzed on a
DNA Analyzer (ABI PRISM 3700; Applied Biosystems) at the Ramaciotti
Centre for Gene Function Analysis (University of New South Wales, Kens-
ington, New South Wales, Australia).
Online supplemental material
Fig. S1 describes how Cdc42 interacts with Pak to regulate actin filament
alignment and cardiac function in fly adult heart and Cdc42 does not
interact with nmr/Tbx20 in maintaining proper heart function. Fig. S2
shows regulation of ion channel genes dSUR and slowpoke by Cdc42 and
tinman. Fig. S3 shows cardiac morphology and fibrosis of MmCdc42+/+;
Nkx2-5+/+, MmCdc42+/+;Nkx2-5del/+, MmCdc42del/+;Nkx2-5+/+, and
MmCdc42del/+;Nkx2-5del/+ adult mice. Fig. S4 shows additional luciferase
assays to test regulation of Cdc42 by miR-1. Fig. S5 shows regulation of
fly miR-1 by Tinman. Table S1 shows the cardiac arrest or fibrillation
rate for deficiency lines covering chromosome X and part of chromo-
some II. Online supplemental material is available at http://www.jcb
We thank the Bloomington stock center and Developmental Studies Hybrid-
oma Bank for sending fly-stocks and antibodies. We are grateful for technique
support from T. Akasaka and L. Elmén, and to Dr. Philip Ursell (Anatomical Pa-
thology, UCSF) for assistance with interpretation of mouse histology.
L. Qian and J. Liu were supported by a predoctoral fellowship from the
American Heart Association. L. Qian is supported by a postdoctoral scholar-
ship from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine and a fellowship
from the Lynda and Stewart Resnick Foundation. K. Ocorr is supported by the
American Heart Association. J.D. Wythe is supported by a postdoctoral fellow-
ship from the National Institutes of Health (T32HL007731). This work was
funded by grants from the NHLBI of the National Institutes of Health to J.A.
Towbin, J.D. Molkentin, B.G. Bruneau, D. Srivastava, and R. Bodmer, and
from the National Health and Medical Research Council (Australia) to D. Fatkin,
R.P. Harvey, and C. Semsarian.
Submitted: 23 June 2010
Accepted: 24 May 2011
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