Elizabeth F. Johnston and Todd E. Gillis
The collagen content of the rainbow trout heart increases in response to cold acclimation and decreases with acclimation to warm temperatures. This ability to remodel the myocardial extracellular matrix (ECM) makes these fish useful models to study the cellular pathways involved in collagen regulation in the vertebrate heart. Remodelling of the ECM in the mammalian heart is regulated, in part, by myofibroblasts which arise from pre-existing fibroblasts in response to transforming growth factor-β1 (TGF-β1). We have previously demonstrated that treatment of cultured rainbow trout cardiac fibroblasts with human TGF-β1 causes an increase in collagen production. Here, we showed that repetitive treatment of rainbow trout cardiac fibroblasts with a physiologically relevant concentration of human recombinant TGF-β1 results in a ~29-fold increase in phosphorylated small mothers against decapentaplegic 2 (pSmad2); a 2.9-fold increase in vinculin protein, a 1.2-fold increase in cellular size and a 3-fold increase in filamentous actin (F-actin). These are common markers of the transition of fibroblasts to myofibroblasts. Cells treated with TGF-β1 also had highly organized cytoskeletal α-smooth muscle actin, as well as increased transcript abundances of mmp-9, timp-2 and col1a1. Furthermore, using gelatin zymography, we demonstrated that TGF-β1 treatment causes a 5.3-fold increase in gelatinase activity. Together, these results suggest that trout cardiac fibroblasts have the capacity to differentiate into myofibroblasts and that this cell type can increase extracellular collagen turnover via gelatinase activity. Cardiac myofibroblasts are, therefore, likely involved in the remodelling of the cardiac ECM in the trout heart during thermal acclimation.