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Impaired relaxation despite upregulated calcium-handling protein atrial myocardium from type 2 diabetic patients with preserved ejection fraction

Regis R Lamberts1*, Shivanjali J Lingam1, Heng-Yu Wang1, Ilse AE Bollen1, Gillian Hughes1, Ivor F Galvin2, Richard W Bunton2, Andrew Bahn1, Rajesh Katare1, J Chris Baldi3, Michael JA Williams3, Pankaj Saxena2, Sean Coffey3 and Peter P Jones1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Physiology - HeartOtago, Otago School of Medical Sciences, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand

2 Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery, Dunedin School of Medicine, Dunedin Hospital, Dunedin, New Zealand

3 Department of Medicine – HeartOtago, Dunedin School of Medicine, Dunedin Hospital, Dunedin, New Zealand

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Cardiovascular Diabetology 2014, 13:72  doi:10.1186/1475-2840-13-72

Published: 5 April 2014



Diastolic dysfunction is a key factor in the development and pathology of cardiac dysfunction in diabetes, however the exact underlying mechanism remains unknown, especially in humans. We aimed to measure contraction, relaxation, expression of calcium-handling proteins and fibrosis in myocardium of diabetic patients with preserved systolic function.


Right atrial appendages from patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus (DM, n = 20) and non-diabetic patients (non-DM, n = 36), all with preserved ejection fraction and undergoing coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG), were collected. From appendages, small cardiac muscles, trabeculae, were isolated to measure basal and β-adrenergic stimulated myocardial function. Expression levels of calcium-handling proteins, sarcoplasmic reticulum Ca2+ ATPase (SERCA2a) and phospholamban (PLB), and of β1-adrenoreceptors were determined in tissue samples by Western blot. Collagen deposition was determined by picro-sirius red staining.


In trabeculae from diabetic samples, contractile function was preserved, but relaxation was prolonged (Tau: 74 ± 13 ms vs. 93 ± 16 ms, non-DM vs. DM, p = 0.03). The expression of SERCA2a was increased in diabetic myocardial tissue (0.75 ± 0.09 vs. 1.23 ± 0.15, non-DM vs. DM, p = 0.007), whereas its endogenous inhibitor PLB was reduced (2.21 ± 0.45 vs. 0.42 ± 0.11, non-DM vs. DM, p = 0.01). Collagen deposition was increased in diabetic samples. Moreover, trabeculae from diabetic patients were unresponsive to β-adrenergic stimulation, despite no change in β1-adrenoreceptor expression levels.


Human type 2 diabetic atrial myocardium showed increased fibrosis without systolic dysfunction but with impaired relaxation, especially during β-adrenergic challenge. Interestingly, changes in calcium-handling protein expression suggests accelerated active calcium re-uptake, thus improved relaxation, indicating a compensatory calcium-handling mechanism in diabetes in an attempt to maintain diastolic function at rest despite impaired relaxation in the diabetic fibrotic atrial myocardium. Our study addresses important aspects of the underlying mechanisms of diabetes-associated diastolic dysfunction, which is crucial to developing new therapeutic treatments.

Diastolic dysfunction; Human myocardium; Type 2 diabetes; Relaxation; Contraction; Adrenergic regulation; Calcium signaling; Myocardial fibrosis