Background: The inflammatory response and subsequent ventricular remodeling are key factors contributing to ventricular arrhythmias (VAs) after myocardial infarction (MI). Ubiquitin-specific protease 38 (USP38) is a member of the USP family, but the impact of USP38 in arrhythmia substrate generation after MI remains unclear. This study aimed to determine the role of USP38 in post-MI VAs and its underlying mechanisms.

Methods and results: Surgical left descending coronary artery ligation was used to construct MI models. Morphological, biochemical, histological, and electrophysiological studies and molecular analyses were performed after MI on days 3 and 28. We found that the USP38 expression was remarkably increased after MI. Cardiac-conditional USP38 knockout (USP38-CKO) reduces the expression of the inflammatory marker CD68 as well as the inflammatory factors TNF-α and IL-1β after MI, thereby alleviating advanced cardiac fibrosis, electrical remodeling, ion channel remodeling, and susceptibility to VAs. In contrast, cardiac-specific USP38 overexpression (USP38-TG) showed a significant opposite effect, exacerbating the early inflammatory response and cardiac remodeling after MI. Mechanistically, USP38 knockout inhibited activation of the TAK1/NF-κB signaling pathway after MI, whereas USP38 overexpression enhanced activation of the TAK1/NF-κB signaling pathway after MI.

Conclusions: Our study confirms that USP38-CKO attenuates the inflammatory response, improves ventricular remodeling after myocardial infarction, and reduces susceptibility to malignant VA by inhibiting the activation of the TAK1/NF-κB pathway, with USP38-TG playing an opposing role. These results suggest that USP38 may be an important target for the treatment of cardiac remodeling and arrhythmias after MI.

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