Widespread changes in cardiac gene expression occur during heart failure, yet the mechanisms responsible for coordinating these changes remain poorly understood. The Mediator complex represents a nodal point for modulating transcription by bridging chromatin-bound transcription factors with RNA polymerase II activity; it is reversibly regulated by its cyclin-dependent kinase 8 (Cdk8) kinase submodule. Here, we identified increased Cdk8 protein expression in human failing heart explants and determined the consequence of this increase in cardiac-specific Cdk8-expressing mice. Transgenic Cdk8 overexpression resulted in progressive dilated cardiomyopathy, heart failure, and premature lethality. Prior to functional decline, left ventricular cardiomyocytes were dramatically elongated, with disorganized transverse tubules and dysfunctional calcium handling. RNA sequencing results showed that myofilament gene isoforms not typically expressed in adult cardiomyocytes were enriched, while oxidative phosphorylation and fatty acid biosynthesis genes were downregulated. Interestingly, candidate upstream transcription factor expression levels and MAPK signaling pathways thought to determine cardiomyocyte size remained relatively unaffected, suggesting that Cdk8 functions within a novel growth regulatory pathway. Our findings show that manipulating cardiac gene expression through increased Cdk8 levels is detrimental to the heart by establishing a transcriptional program that induces pathological remodeling and eccentric hypertrophy culminating in heart failure.
Duane D. Hall, Jessica M. Ponce, Biyi Chen, Kathryn M. Spitler, Adrianne Alexia, Gavin Y. Oudit, Long-Sheng Song, Chad E. Grueter