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Methods & Results Using confocal imaging, T. brucei and T. brucei culture media (supernatant) caused an increased frequency of arrhythmogenic spontaneous diastolic sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR)-mediated Ca2+ release (Ca2+ waves) in isolated adult rat ventricular cardiomyocytes. Studies utilising inhibitors, recombinant protein and RNAi all demonstrated that this altered SR function was due to T. brucei cathepsin-L (TbCatL). Separate experiments revealed that TbCatL induced a 10-15% increase of SERCA activity but reduced SR Ca2+ content, suggesting a concomitant increased SR-mediated Ca2+ leak. This conclusion was supported by data demonstrating that TbCatL increased Ca2+ wave frequency. These effects were abolished by autocamtide-2 related inhibitory peptide, highlighting a role for CaMKII in the TbCatL action on SR function. Isolated Langendorff perfused whole heart experiments confirmed that supernatant caused an increased number of arrhythmic events.
Conclusions These data demonstrate for the first time that African trypanosomes alter cardiac function independent of a systemic immune response, via a mechanism involving extracellular cathepsin-L-mediated changes in SR function.