Upregulation of alphaB-crystallin (CryAB), a small heat shock protein, is associated with a variety of diseases, including the desmin-related myopathies. CryAB, which binds to both desmin and cytoplasmic actin, may participate as a chaperone in intermediate filament formation and maintenance, but the physiological consequences of CryAB upregulation are unknown. A mutation in CryAB, R120G, has been linked to a familial desminopathy. However, it is unclear whether the mutation is directly causative. We created multiple transgenic mouse lines that overexpressed either murine wild-type CryAB or the R120G mutation in cardiomyocytes. Overexpression of wild-type CryAB was relatively benign, with no increases in mortality and no induction of desmin-related cardiomyopathy even in a line in which CryAB mRNA expression was increased approximately 104-fold and the protein level increased by 11-fold. In contrast, lines expressing the R120G mutation were compromised, with a high-expressing line exhibiting 100% mortality by early adulthood. Modest expression levels resulted in a phenotype that was strikingly similar to that observed for the desmin-related cardiomyopathies. The desmin filaments in the cardiomyocytes were overtly affected, myofibril alignment was significantly impaired, and a hypertrophic response occurred at both the molecular and cellular levels. The data show that the R120G mutation causes a desminopathy, is dominant negative, and results in cardiac hypertrophy.
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