Methods: We compared clinical characteristics of RBM20 and TTN mutation carriers and used our previously generated Rbm20 knockout (KO) mice to investigate downstream effects of Rbm20-dependent splicing. Cellular electrophysiology and Ca2+ measurements were performed on isolated cardiomyocytes from Rbm20 KO mice to determine the intracellular consequences of reduced Rbm20 levels.
Results: Sustained ventricular arrhythmias were more frequent in human RBM20 mutation carriers than in TTN mutation carriers (44% versus 5%, respectively, P=0.006). Splicing events that affected Ca2+- and ion-handling genes were enriched in Rbm20 KO mice, most notably in the genes CamkIIδ and RyR2. Aberrant splicing of CamkIIδ in Rbm20 KO mice resulted in a remarkable shift of CamkIIδ toward the δ-A isoform that is known to activate the L-type Ca2+ current (ICa,L). In line with this, we found an increased ICa,L, intracellular Ca2+ overload and increased sarcoplasmic reticulum Ca2+ content in Rbm20 KO myocytes. In addition, not only complete loss of Rbm20, but also heterozygous loss of Rbm20 increased spontaneous sarcoplasmic reticulum Ca2+ releases, which could be attenuated by treatment with the ICa,L antagonist verapamil.
Conclusions: We show that loss of Rbm20 disturbs Ca2+ handling and leads to more proarrhythmic Ca2+ releases from the sarcoplasmic reticulum. Patients that carry a pathogenic RBM20 mutation have more ventricular arrhythmias despite a similar left ventricular function, in comparison with patients with a TTN mutation. Our experimental data suggest that RBM20 mutation carriers may benefit from treatment with an ICa,L blocker to reduce their arrhythmia burden.