The absence of desmin leads to cardiomyocyte hypertrophy and cardiac dilation with compromised systolic function

Derek J. Milner, George E. Taffet, Xuejun Wang, Thuy Pham, Tetsutaro Tamura, Craig Hartley, Martin A. Gerdes, Yassemi Capetanaki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

146 Scopus citations


Desmin is the muscle-specific member of the intermediate filament family of cytoskeletal proteins, expressed both in striated and smooth muscle tissues. In mature striated muscle fibers, the desmin filament lattice surrounds the Z-discs, interconnects them to each other and links the entire contractile apparatus to the sarcolemmal cytoskeleton, cytoplasmic organelles and the nucleus. There have been increasing reports of human cardiomyopathies associated with abnormal accumulation and aggregation of desmin filaments. Recently identified desmin mutations in humans suffering from skeletal muscle myopathy and cardiomyopathy suggest that these diseases might arise as a consequence of impaired function of desmin filaments. Previous generation of desmin null mice in our laboratory demonstrated that the absence of desmin results in myocyte ultrastructural defects and myocyte cell death leading to fibrosis and calcification of the myocardium. However, the effects that these defects have on cardiac function were not addressed. To further our understanding of desmin function in vivo, and in order to address the direct involvement of desmin in cardiomgopathy, we investigated the effect of the absence of desmin on myocardial mass, myocyte size and shape, changes in gene expression and cardiac systolic and diastolic function in mice. Morphometric characterization of isolated cardiomyocytes demonstrated a 24% increase in cell volume in the desmin null mice, solely due to an increase in transverse section area, suggesting for the first time that mice lacking the intermediate filament protein desmin develop concentric cardiompocyte hypertrophy. This type of hypertrophy was accompanied by induction of embryonic gene expression and later by ventricular dilatalion, and compromised systolic function. These results demonstrate that desmin is essential for normal cardiac function, and they suggest that the absence of an intact demnin filament system, rather than accumulation of the protein, may be responsible for the pathology seen in some of the desmin associated cardiomyocytes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2063-2076
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Molecular and Cellular Cardiology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1999
Externally publishedYes


  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Desmin
  • Dilation
  • Doppler
  • Hypertrophy
  • Intermediate filaments

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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