Follistatin-like 1 promotes proliferation of matured human hypoxic iPSC-cardiomyocytes and is secreted by cardiac fibroblasts

Marijn C Peters, Sofia Di Martino, Thomas Boelens, Jiabin Qin, Alain van Mil, Pieter A Doevendans, Steven A J Chamuleau, Joost P G Sluijter, Klaus Neef

Published: 9 June 2022


The human heart has limited regenerative capacity. Therefore, patients often progress to heart failure after ischemic injury, despite advances in reperfusion therapies generally decreasing mortality. Depending on its glycosylation state, Follistatin-like 1 (FSTL1) has been shown to increase cardiomyocyte (CM) proliferation, decrease CM apoptosis, and prevent cardiac rupture in animal models of ischemic heart disease. To explore its therapeutic potential, we used a human in vitro model of cardiac ischemic injury with human induced pluripotent stem cell-derived CMs (iPSC-CMs) and assessed regenerative effects of two differently glycosylated variants of human FSTL1. Furthermore, we investigated the FSTL1-mediated interplay between human cardiac fibroblasts (cFBs) and iPSC-CMs in hypoxia. Both FSTL1 variants increased viability, while only hypo-glycosylated FSTL1 increased CM proliferation post-hypoxia. Human fetal cardiac fibroblasts (fcFBs) expressed and secreted FSTL1 under normoxic conditions, while FSTL1 secretion increased by iPSC-cFBs upon hypoxia but decreased in iPSC-CMs. Co-culture of iPSC-CMs and cFBs increased FSTL1 secretion compared with cFB mono-culture. Taken together, we confirm that FSTL1 induces iPSC-CM proliferation in a human cardiac in vitro hypoxia damage model. Furthermore, we show hypoxia-related FSTL1 secretion by human cFBs and indications for FSTL1-mediated intercellular communication between cardiac cell types in response to hypoxic conditions.

Graphical abstract

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