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BACKGROUND: Atrial fibrillation (AF), often associated with structural, fibrotic change in cardiac tissues involving regulatory signaling mediators, becomes increasingly common with age. In the present study, we explored the role of mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase 4 (Mkk4), a critical component of the stress-activated mitogen-activated protein kinase family, in age-associated AF. METHODS AND RESULTS: We developed a novel mouse model with a selective inactivation of atrial cardiomyocyte Mkk4 (Mkk4(ACKO)). We characterized and compared electrophysiological, histological, and molecular features of young (3- to 4-month), adult (6-month), and old (1-year) Mkk4(ACKO) mice with age-matched control littermates (Mkk4(F/F)). Aging Mkk4(ACKO) mice were more susceptible to atrial tachyarrhythmias than the corresponding Mkk4(F/F) mice, showing characteristic slow and dispersed atrial conduction, for which modeling studies demonstrated potential arrhythmic effects. These differences paralleled increased interstitial fibrosis, upregulated transforming growth factor beta 1 (TGF-β1) signaling and dysregulation of matrix metalloproteinases in Mkk4(ACKO), compared to Mkk4(F/F), atria. Mkk4 inactivation increased the sensitivity of cultured cardiomyocytes to angiotensin II-induced activation of TGF-β1 signaling. This, in turn, enhanced expression of profibrotic molecules in cultured cardiac fibroblasts, suggesting cross-talk between these two cell types in profibrotic signaling. Finally, human atrial tissues in AF showed a Mkk4 downregulation associated with increased production of profibrotic molecules, compared to findings in tissue from control subjects in sinus rhythm. CONCLUSIONS: These findings together demonstrate, for the first time, that Mkk4 is a negative regulator of the TGF-β1 signaling associated with atrial remodeling and arrhythmogenesis with age, establishing Mkk4 as a new potential therapeutic target for treating AF.

Original publication




Journal article


J Am Heart Assoc

Publication Date





aging, atrial fibrillation, cardiac remodeling, Age Factors, Aged, Angiotensin II, Animals, Atrial Fibrillation, Atrial Remodeling, Case-Control Studies, Cells, Cultured, Computer Simulation, Down-Regulation, Female, Fibrosis, Heart Rate, Humans, MAP Kinase Kinase 4, Male, Mice, Mice, Knockout, Myocytes, Cardiac, Rats, Rats, Sprague-Dawley, Signal Transduction, Transfection, Transforming Growth Factor beta1