Indexed on: 01 May '08Published on: 01 May '08Published in: Current cardiology reviews
The myocardium is mainly composed of long-lived postmitotic cells with, if there is any at all, a very low rate of replacement through the division and differentiation of stem cells. As a consequence, cardiac myocytes gradually undergo pronounced age-related alterations which, furthermore, occur at a rate that inversely correlates with the longevity of species. Basically, these alterations represent the accumulation of structures that have been damaged by oxidation and that are useless and often harmful. These structures (so-called 'waste' materials), include defective mitochondria, aberrant cytosolic proteins, often in aggregated form, and lipofuscin, which is an intralysosomal undegradable polymeric substance. The accumulation of 'waste' reflects the insufficient capacity for autophagy of the lysosomal compartment, as well as the less than perfect functioning of proteasomes, calpains and other cellular digestive systems. Senescent mitochondria are usually enlarged, show reduced potential over their inner membrane, are deficient in ATP production, and often produce increased amounts of reactive oxygen species. The turnover of damaged cellular structures is hindered by an increased lipofuscin loading of the lysosomal compartment. This particularly restricts the autophagic turnover of enlarged, defective mitochondria, by diverting the flow of lysosomal hydrolases from autophagic vacuoles to lipofuscin-loaded lysosomes where the enzymes are lost, since lipofuscin is not degradable by lysosomal hydrolases. As a consequence, aged lipofuscin-rich cardiac myocytes become overloaded with damaged mitochondria, leading to increased oxidative stress, apoptotic cell death, and the gradual development of heart failure. Defective lysosomal function also underlies myocardial degeneration in various lysosomal storage diseases, while other forms of cardiomyopathies develop due to mitochondrial DNA mutations, resulting in an accumulation of abnormal mitochondria that are not properly eliminated by autophagy. The degradation of iron-saturated ferritin in lysosomes mediates myocardial injury in hemochromatosis, an acquired or hereditary disease associated with iron overload. Lysosomes then become sensitized to oxidative stress by the overload of low mass, redox-active iron that accumulates when iron-saturated ferritin is degraded following autophagy. Lysosomal destabilization is of importance in the induction and/or execution of programmed cell death (either classical apoptotic or autophagic), which is a common manifestation of myocardial aging and a variety of cardiac pathologies.