Chronic arsenic exposure is associated with increased morbidity and mortality for cardiovascular diseases. Arsenic increases myocardial infarction mortality in young adulthood, suggesting that exposure during foetal life correlates with cardiac alterations emerging later. Here, we investigated the mechanisms of arsenic trioxide (ATO) cardiomyocytes disruption during their differentiation from mouse embryonic stem cells. Throughout 15 days of differentiation in the presence of ATO (0.1, 0.5, 1.0 mu M) we analysed: the expression of i) marker genes of mesoderm (day 4), myofibrillogenic commitment (day 7) and post-natal-like cardiomyocytes (day 15); ii) sarcomeric proteins and their organisation; iii) Connexin 43 and iv) the kinematics contractile properties of syncytia. The higher the dose used, the earlier the stage of differentiation affected (mesoderm commitment, 1.0 mu M). At 0.5 or 1.0 mu M the expression of cardiomyocyte marker genes is altered. Even at 0.1 mu M, ATO leads to reduction and skewed ratio of sarcomeric proteins and to a rarefied distribution of Connexin 43 cardiac junctions. These alterations contribute to the dysruption of the sarcomere and syncytium organisation and to the impairment of kinematic parameters of cardiomyocyte function. This study contributes insights into the mechanistic comprehension of cardiac diseases caused by in utero arsenic exposure.
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