In contrast to studies on skeletal and smooth muscles, the identity of kinases in the heart that are important physiologically for direct phosphorylation of myosin regulatory light chain (RLC) is not known. A Ca(2+)/calmodulin-activated myosin light chain kinase is expressed only in cardiac muscle (cMLCK), similar to the tissue-specific expression of skeletal muscle MLCK and in contrast to the ubiquitous expression of smooth muscle MLCK. We have ablated cMLCK expression in male mice to provide insights into its role in RLC phosphorylation in normally contracting myocardium. The extent of RLC phosphorylation was dependent on the extent of cMLCK expression in both ventricular and atrial muscles. Attenuation of RLC phosphorylation led to ventricular myocyte hypertrophy with histological evidence of necrosis and fibrosis. Echocardiography showed increases in left ventricular mass as well as end-diastolic and end-systolic dimensions. Cardiac performance measured as fractional shortening decreased proportionally with decreased cMLCK expression culminating in heart failure in the setting of no RLC phosphorylation. Hearts from female mice showed similar responses with loss of cMLCK associated with diminished RLC phosphorylation and cardiac hypertrophy. Isoproterenol infusion elicited hypertrophic cardiac responses in wild type mice. In mice lacking cMLCK, the hypertrophic hearts showed no additional increases in size with the isoproterenol treatment, suggesting a lack of RLC phosphorylation blunted the stress response. Thus, cMLCK appears to be the predominant protein kinase that maintains basal RLC phosphorylation that is required for normal physiological cardiac performance in vivo.
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