Progression of Myocardial Ischemia Leads to Unique Changes in Immediate-Early Gene Expression in the Spinal Cord Dorsal Horn

Document Type


Publication Date



The pathological conse-quences of ischemic heart disease involve signaling through the autonomic nervous system. Although early activation may serve to maintain hemodynamic stability, persistent aberrant sympathoexcitation contributes to the development of lethal arrhythmias and heart failure. We hypothesized that as the myocardium reacts and remodels to ischemic injury over time, there is an analogous sequence of gene expression changes in the thoracic spinal cord dorsal horn, the processing center for incoming afferent fibers from the heart to the central nervous system. Acute and chronic myocardial ischemia (MI) was induced in a large animal model of Yorkshire pigs, and the thoracic dorsal horn of treated pigs, along with control nonischemic pigs, was harvested for transcriptome analysis. We identified 32 differentially expressed genes between healthy and acute ischemia cohorts and 46 differentially expressed genes between healthy and chronic ischemia cohorts. The canonical immediate-early gene c-fos was upregulated after acute MI, along with fosB, dual specificity phosphatase 1 and 2 (dusp1 and dusp2), and early growth response 2 (egr2). After chronic MI, there was a persistent yet unique activation of immediate-early genes, including fosB, nuclear receptor subfamily 4 group A members 1±3 (nr4a1, nr4a2, and nr4a3), egr3, and TNF-β-induced protein 3 (tnfaip3). In addition, differentially expressed genes from the chronic MI signature were enriched in pathways linked to apoptosis, immune regulation, and the stress response. These findings support a dynamic progression of gene expression changes in the dorsal horn with maturation of myocardial injury, and they may explain how early adaptive autonomic nervous system responses can maintain hemodynamic stability, whereas prolonged maladaptive signals can predispose patients to arrhythmias and heart failure. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Activation of the autonomic nervous system after myocardial injury can provide early cardiovascular support or prolonged aberrant sympathoexcitation. The later response can lead to lethal arrhythmias and heart failure. This study provides evidence of ongoing changes in the gene expression signature of the spinal cord dorsal horn as myocardial injury progresses over time. These changes could help explain how an adaptive nervous system response can become maladaptive over time.