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OBJECTIVES: Myocardial infarction leads to extensive changes in the organization of cardiac myocytes and fibroblasts, and changes in gap junction protein expression. In the immediate period following ischemia, reperfusion causes hypercontraction, spreading the necrotic lesion. Further progressive infarction continues over several weeks. In reperfusion injury, the nonspecific gap junction channel uncoupler heptanol limits necrosis. We hypothesize that gap junction coupling and fibroblast invasion provide a substrate for progressive infarction via a gap junction mediated bystander effect. METHODS: A sheep coronary occlusion infarct model was used with samples collected at 12, 24 and 48 h, and 6, 12 and 30 d (days) post-infarction. Immunohistochemical labelling of gap junction connexins Cx40, Cx43, and Cx45 was combined with cell-specific markers for fibroblasts (anti-vimentin) and myocytes (anti-myomesin). Double and triple immunolabelling and confocal microscopy were used to follow changes in cardiac myocyte morphology, fibroblast content and gap junction expression after myocardial infarction. Gap junction protein levels and fibroblast numbers were quantified. RESULTS: Within 12 h of ischemia, myocyte viability is impaired within small islands in the ischemic region. These islands spread and fuse into larger infarct zones until 12 d post-infarction. Thereafter, surviving myocytes within the infarct and in the border-zone appear to become stabilized. Distant from the infarct, continuing myocyte disruption is regularly observed, even after 30 d. Cx43 becomes redistributed from intercalated discs to the lateral surface of structurally compromised myocytes within 12 d. Cx45 expressing fibroblasts infiltrate the damaged region within 24 h, becoming most numerous at 6-12 d post-infarction, with peak Cx45 levels at 6 d. Later, Cx43 expressing fibroblasts are observed, and the related Cx43 label increases over the 30 d observation period, even though fibroblast numbers decline after 12 d. Cx40 was only seen in vascular endothelium. CONCLUSIONS: Progressive infarction, identified by myocyte sarcomere disruption and subsequent cell loss, occurs in parallel with fibroblast invasion and gap junction remodeling. Two fibroblast phenotypes occur within infarcts, expressing either Cx43 or Cx45. Coupled fibroblasts may play a number of roles in tissue remodeling following myocardial infarction, including provision of a possible substrate for progressive infarction via a gap junction mediated bystander effect.

Original publication




Journal article


Cardiovasc Res

Publication Date





415 - 425


Animals, Connexin 43, Connexins, Fibroblasts, Gap Junctions, Immunohistochemistry, Myocardial Infarction, Myocytes, Cardiac, Sheep, Time Factors