Shortly after birth, mammalian cardiomyocytes (CM) exit the cell cycle and cease to proliferate. The inability of adult CM to replicate renders the heart particularly vulnerable to injury. Restoration of CM proliferation would be an attractive clinical target for regenerative therapies that can preserve contractile function and thus prevent the development of heart failure. Our review focuses on recent progress in understanding the tight regulation of signaling pathways and their downstream molecular mechanisms that underly the inability of CM to proliferate in vivo. In this review, we describe the temporal expression of cell cycle activators e.g., cyclin/Cdk complexes and their inhibitors including p16, p21, p27 and members of the retinoblastoma gene family during gestation and postnatal life. The differential impact of members of the E2f transcription factor family and microRNAs on the regulation of positive and negative cell cycle factors is discussed. This review also highlights seminal studies that identified the coordination of signaling mechanisms that can potently activate CM cell cycle re-entry including the Wnt/Ctnnb1, Hippo, Pi3K-Akt and Nrg1-Erbb2/4 pathways. We also present an up-to-date account of landmark studies analyzing the effect of various genes such as Argin, Dystrophin, Fstl1, Meis1, Pitx2 and Pkm2 that are responsible for either inhibition or activation of CM cell division. All these reports describe bona fide therapeutically targets that could guide future clinical studies toward cardiac repair.

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