ABSTRACT: Although the signaling pathways underlying exercise-induced cardiac adaptation have been extensively studied, little is known about the molecular mechanisms that result in the response of the heart to pregnancy. The objective of this study was to define the morphological, functional, and gene expression patterns that define the hearts of pregnant mice, and to identify the signaling pathways that mediate this response. Mice were divided into three groups: nonpregnant diestrus control, midpregnancy, and late pregnancy. Both time points of pregnancy were associated with significant cardiac hypertrophy. The prosurvival signaling cascades of Akt and ERK1/2 were activated in the hearts of pregnant mice, while the stress kinase, p38, was decreased. Given the activation of Akt in pregnancy and its known role in cardiac hypertrophy, the hypertrophic response to pregnancy was tested in mice expressing a cardiac-specific activated (myristoylated) form of Akt (myrAkt) or a cardiac-specific constitutively active (antipathologic hypertrophic) form of its downstream target, glycogen synthase kinase 3β (caGSK3β). The pregnancy-induced hypertrophic responses of hearts from these mice were significantly attenuated. Finally, we tested whether pregnancy-associated sex hormones could induce hypertrophy and alter signaling pathways in isolated neonatal rat ventricular myocytes (NRVMs). In fact, progesterone, but not estradiol treatment increased NRVM cell size via phosphorylation of ERK1/2. Inhibition of MEK1 effectively blocked progesterone-induced cellular hypertrophy. Taken together, our study demonstrates that pregnancy-induced cardiac hypertrophy is mediated by activation of Akt and ERK1/2 pathways.
Journal of Applied Physiology 02/2012; 112(9):1564-75. · 3.75 Impact Factor