Corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) and the CRF-related peptides, urocortin (Ucn)-1, Ucn2, and Ucn3 signal through receptors CRFR1 and CRFR2 to restore homeostasis in response to stress. The Ucns exert potent cardioprotective effects and may have clinical utility in heart failure. To explore the activity of this system in the heart, we measured the levels of myocardial gene expression of the CRF/Ucn family of ligands/receptors and investigated genetic variation and alternative splicing of CRFR1 in 110 heart failure patients and 108 heart donors. Using quantitative real-time PCR, we detected CRFR1, CRFR2, CRF, Ucn1, Ucn2, and Ucn3 in all samples. CRFR2β was the most abundant receptor and Ucn3 the most abundant ligand, both in patients and donors. Compared with donors, cardiac expression of CRFR1, CRF, and Ucn3 was higher (P β .001) and CRFR2β lower (P α .012) in patients. In patients and donors, genetic variation within CRFR1, represented by the chromosome 17q21.31 inversion polymorphism, was associated with markedly higher CRFR1 expression (P β .001), making CRFR1 and CRFR2β expression almost equivalent insomepatients.Anovel, truncated splice variant of CRFR1, designated CRFR1j, was identified andshownto exert a dominant-negative effect on CRFR1 signaling in vitro. The novel variant was expressed in a greater proportion of patients (60%) than donors (3%, Pβ.001). In summary, cardiac expression of CRFR1, CRF, and Ucn3 genes is elevated in heart failure and may contribute to the activation of the CRF/Ucn system in these patients. A common variant within the CRFR1 gene and a novel CRFR1 splice variant may modulate CRFR1 expression and signaling.
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