Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common age-related cardiac arrhythmia worldwide and is associated with ischemic stroke, heart failure, and substantial morbidity and mortality. Unfortunately, current AF therapy is only moderately effective and does not prevent AF progression from recurrent intermittent episodes (paroxysmal) to persistent and finally permanent AF. It has been recognized that AF persistence is related to the presence of electropathology. Electropathology is defined as structural damage, including degradation of sarcomere structures, in the atrial tissue which, in turn, impairs electrical conduction and subsequently the contractile function of atrial cardiomyocytes. Recent research findings indicate that derailed proteostasis underlies structural damage and, consequently, electrical conduction impairment. A healthy proteostasis is of vital importance for proper function of cells, including cardiomyocytes. Cells respond to a loss of proteostatic control by inducing a heat shock response (HSR), which results in heat shock protein (HSP) expression. Emerging clinical evidence indicates that AF-induced proteostasis derailment is rooted in exhaustion of HSPs. Cardiomyocytes lose defense against structural damage-inducing pathways, which drives progression of AF and induction of HSP expression. In particular, small HSPB1 conserves sarcomere structures by preventing their degradation by proteases, and overexpression of HSPB1 accelerates recovery from structural damage in experimental AF model systems. In this review, we provide an overview of the mechanisms of action of HSPs in preventing AF and discuss the therapeutic potential of HSP-inducing compounds in clinical AF, as well as the potential of HSPs as biomarkers to discriminate between the various stages of AF and recurrence of AF after treatment.
- Atrial fibrillation
- Heat shock protein