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Deep bradycardia and heart block caused by inducible cardiac-specific knockout of the pacemaker channel gene Hcn4.

Mirko Baruscotti, Annalisa Bucchi, Carlo Viscomi, Giacomo Mandelli, Giacomo Consalez, Tomaso Gnecchi-Rusconi, Nicola Montano, Karina Rabello Casali, Stefano Micheloni, Andrea Barbuti, Dario DiFrancesco

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A., 2011 Jan 25 , 108, 1705-10

Cardiac pacemaking generation and modulation rely on the coordinated activity of several processes. Although a wealth of evidence indicates a relevant role of the I(f) ("funny," or pacemaker) current, whose molecular constituents are the hyperpolarization-activated, cyclic nucleotide-gated (HCN) channels and particularly HCN4, work with mice where Hcn genes were knocked out, or functionally modified, has challenged this view. However, no previous studies used a cardiac-specific promoter to induce HCN4 ablation in adult mice. We report here that, in an inducible and cardiac-specific HCN4 knockout (ciHCN4-KO) mouse model, ablation of HCN4 consistently leads to progressive development of severe bradycardia (∼50% reduction of original rate) and AV block, eventually leading to heart arrest and death in about 5 d. In vitro analysis of sinoatrial node (SAN) myocytes isolated from ciHCN4-KO mice at the mean time of death revealed a strong reduction of both the I(f) current (by ∼70%) and of the spontaneous rate (by ∼60%). In agreement with functional results, immunofluorescence and Western blot analysis showed reduced expression of HCN4 protein in SAN tissue and cells. In ciHCN4-KO animals, the residual I(f) was normally sensitive to β-adrenergic receptor (β-AR) modulation, and the permanence of rate response to β-AR stimulation was observed both in vivo and in vitro. Our data show that cardiac HCN4 channels are essential for normal heart impulse generation and conduction in adult mice and support the notion that dysfunctional HCN4 channels can be a direct cause of rhythm disorders. This work contributes to identifying the molecular mechanism responsible for cardiac pacemaking.