Correlation between frataxin expression and contractility revealed by in vitro Friedreich's ataxia cardiac tissue models engineered from human pluripotent stem cells

Andy On Tik Wong, Gabriel Wong, Michael Shen, Maggie Zi Ying Chow, Wan Wai Tse, Bimal Gurung, Suet Yee Mak, Deborah K. Lieu, Kevin D. Costa, Camie W. Chan, Alain Martelli, Joseph F. Nabhan, Ronald A. Li

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Background: Friedreich's ataxia (FRDA) is an autosomal recessive disease caused by a non-coding mutation in the first intron of the frataxin (FXN) gene that suppresses its expression. Compensatory hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, dilated cardiomyopathy, and conduction system abnormalities in FRDA lead to cardiomyocyte (CM) death and fibrosis, consequently resulting in heart failure and arrhythmias. Murine models have been developed to study disease pathology in the past two decades; however, differences between human and mouse physiology and metabolism have limited the relevance of animal studies in cardiac disease conditions. To bridge this gap, we aimed to generate species-specific, functional in vitro experimental models of FRDA using 2-dimensional (2D) and 3-dimensional (3D) engineered cardiac tissues from FXN-deficient human pluripotent stem cell-derived ventricular cardiomyocytes (hPSC-hvCMs) and to compare their contractile and electrophysiological properties with healthy tissue constructs. Methods: Healthy control and FRDA patient-specific hPSC-hvCMs were derived by directed differentiation using a small molecule-based protocol reported previously. We engineered the hvCMs into our established human ventricular cardiac tissue strip (hvCTS) and human ventricular cardiac anisotropic sheet (hvCAS) models, and functional assays were performed on days 7-17 post-tissue fabrication to assess the electrophysiology and contractility of FRDA patient-derived and FXN-knockdown engineered tissues, in comparison with healthy controls. To further validate the disease model, forced expression of FXN was induced in FXN-deficient tissues to test if disease phenotypes could be rescued. Results: Here, we report for the first time the generation of human engineered tissue models of FRDA cardiomyopathy from hPSCs: FXN-deficient hvCTS displayed attenuated developed forces (by 70-80%) compared to healthy controls. High-resolution optical mapping of hvCAS with reduced FXN expression also revealed electrophysiological defects consistent with clinical observations, including action potential duration prolongation and maximum capture frequency reduction. Interestingly, a clear positive correlation between FXN expression and contractility was observed (ρ > 0.9), and restoration of FXN protein levels by lentiviral transduction rescued contractility defects in FXN-deficient hvCTS. Conclusions: We conclude that human-based in vitro cardiac tissue models of FRDA provide a translational, disease-relevant biomimetic platform for the evaluation of novel therapeutics and to provide insight into FRDA disease progression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number203
JournalStem Cell Research and Therapy
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 8 2019
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology (miscellaneous)
  • Cell Biology


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