Although left ventricular (LV) diastolic dysfunction is often associated with hypertension, little is known regarding its underlying pathophysiological mechanism. Here, we show that the actin cytoskeletal regulator, Rho-associated coiled-coil containing kinase-2 (ROCK2), is a critical mediator of LV diastolic dysfunction. In response to angiotensin II (Ang II), mutant mice with fibroblast-specific deletion of ROCK2 (ROCK2Postn–/–) developed less LV wall thickness and fibrosis, along with improved isovolumetric relaxation. This corresponded with decreased connective tissue growth factor (CTGF) and fibroblast growth factor–2 (FGF2) expression in the hearts of ROCK2Postn–/– mice. Indeed, knockdown of ROCK2 in cardiac fibroblasts leads to decreased expression of CTGF and secretion of FGF2, and cardiomyocytes incubated with conditioned media from ROCK2-knockdown cardiac fibroblasts exhibited less hypertrophic response. In contrast, mutant mice with elevated fibroblast ROCK activity exhibited enhanced Ang II–stimulated cardiac hypertrophy and fibrosis. Clinically, higher leukocyte ROCK2 activity was observed in patients with diastolic dysfunction compared with age- and sex-matched controls, and correlated with higher grades of diastolic dysfunction by echocardiography. These findings indicate that fibroblast ROCK2 is necessary to cause cardiac hypertrophy and fibrosis through the induction CTGF and FGF2, and they suggest that targeting ROCK2 may have therapeutic benefits in patients with LV diastolic dysfunction.
Toru Shimizu, Nikhil Narang, Phetcharat Chen, Brian Yu, Maura Knapp, Jyothi Janardanan, John Blair, James K. Liao