What Is EU-Rhythmy?

EU-Rhythmy is an ambitious research project. 2.3 million Euros of funding has been allocated from the European Research Council (ERC) to the Molecular Cardiology Team directed by Professor Silvia G. Priori to develop innovative strategies and treat inherited arrhythmic syndromes, such as Catecholaminergic Polymorphic Ventricular Tachycardia (CPVT) and Timothy Syndrome.

Our Funding


The European Research Council (ERC) is a public body which funds scientific and technological research conducted within the European Union.

The ERC's mission is to "encourage the highest quality research in Europe through competitive funding on the basis of scientific excellence." The ERC funds research that is highly innovative and meets the criteria of being high risk / high gain.


What is the Molecular Cardiology Team?

The Molecular Cardiology Team directed by Professor Silvia Priori is dedicated to the study of genetic diseases that may cause cardiac arrhythmias and lead to cardiac arrest. Over the last 25 years, the group based at the University of Pavia has developed a large clinic dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of patients at the ICS Maugeri Hospital. Next door to the clinics are the molecular diagnostic laboratories and the research laboratories. Genetic analyses are performed at the former. In the latter, molecular mechanisms of diseases are studied, using cellular and animal models of the diseases, and innovative therapies are developed.

Recently, a partnership with CNIC in Madrid has been established, in order to implement new collaborative strategies to achieve the translational goal of the team.


Our Publications

Allele-specific silencing of mutant mRNA rescues ultrastructural and arrhythmic phenotype in mice carriers of the R4496C mutation in the ryanodine receptor gene (RYR2)

Bongianino R, Denegri M, Mazzanti A, Lodola F, Vollero A, Boncompagni S, Fasciano S, Rizzo G, Mangione D, Barbaro S, Di Fonso A, Napolitano C, Auricchio A, Protasi F, Priori SG.

Circ Res. 2017 Aug 18;121(5):525-536.

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Abstract

Rationale:
Mutations in the cardiac Ryanodine Receptor gene (RYR2) cause dominant catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia (CPVT), a leading cause of sudden death in apparently healthy individuals exposed to emotions or physical exercise.

Objective:
We investigated the efficacy of allele-specific silencing by RNA interference to prevent CPVT phenotypic manifestations in our dominant CPVT mice model carriers of the heterozygous mutation R4496C in RYR2.

Methods and results:
We developed an in vitro mRNA and protein-based assays to screen multiple siRNAs for their ability to selectively silence mutant RYR2-R4496C mRNA over the corresponding wild-type allele. For the most performant of these siRNAs (siRYR2-U10), we evaluated the efficacy of an adeno-associated serotype 9 viral vector (AAV9) expressing miRYR2-U10 in correcting RyR2 (Ryanodine Receptor type 2 protein) function after in vivo delivery by intraperitoneal injection in neonatal and adult RyR2R4496C/+ (mice heterozygous for the R4496C mutation in the RyR2) heterozygous CPVT mice. Transcriptional analysis showed that after treatment with miRYR2-U10, the ratio between wild-type and mutant RYR2 mRNA was doubled (from 1:1 to 2:1) confirming the ability of miRYR2-U10 to selectively inhibit RYR2-R4496C mRNA, whereas protein quantification showed that total RyR2 was reduced by 15% in the heart of treated mice. Furthermore, AAV9-miRYR2-U10 effectively (1) reduced isoproterenol-induced delayed afterdepolarizations and triggered activity in infected cells, (2) reduced adrenergically mediated ventricular tachycardia in treated mice, (3) reverted ultrastructural abnormalities of junctional sarcoplasmic reticulum and transverse tubules, and (4) attenuated mitochondrial abnormalities.

Conclusions:
The study demonstrates that allele-specific silencing with miRYR2-U10 prevents life-threatening arrhythmias in CPVT mice, suggesting that the reduction of mutant RyR2 may be a novel therapeutic approach for CPVT.

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T-wave morphology analysis in congenital long QT syndrome discriminates patients from healthy individuals

Porta-Sánchez A, Spillane DR, Harris L, Xue J, Dorsey P, Care M, Chauhan V, Gollob MH, Spears DA.

JACC Clin Electrophysiol. 2017 Apr;3(4):374-381

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Abstract

Objectives:
This study aims to assess the capability of T-wave analysis to: 1) identify genotype-positive long QT syndrome (LQTS) patients; 2) identify LQTS patients with borderline or normal QTc interval (≤460 ms); and 3) classify LQTS subtype.

Background:
LQTS often presents with a nondiagnostic electrocardiogram (ECG). T-wave abnormalities may be the only marker of this potentially lethal arrhythmia syndrome.

Methods:
ECGs taken at rest in 108 patients (43 with LQTS1, 20 with LQTS2, and 45 control subjects) were evaluated for T-wave flatness, asymmetry, and notching, which produces a morphology combination score (MCS) of the 3 features (MCS = 1.6 × flatness + asymmetry + notch) using QT Guard Plus Software (GE Healthcare, Milwaukee, Wisconsin). To assess for heterogeneity of repolarization, the principal component analysis ratio 2 (PCA-2) was calculated.

Results:
Mean QTc intervals were 486 ± 50 ms (LQTS1), 479 ± 36 ms (LQTS2), and 418 ± 24 ms (control subjects) (p < 0.05). MCS and PCA-2 differed between LQTS patients and control subjects (MCS: 117.8 ± 57.4 vs. 71.9 ± 16.2; p < 0.001; PCA-2: 20.2 ± 10.4% vs. 14.6 ± 5.5%; p < 0.001), LQTS1 and LQTS2 patients (MCS: 96.3 ± 28.7 vs. 164 ± 75.2; p < 0.001; PCA-2: 17.8 ± 8.3% vs. 25 ± 12.6%; p < 0.001), and between LQTS patients with borderline or normal QTc intervals (n = 17) and control subjects (MCS: 105.7 ± 49.9 vs. 71.9 ± 16.2; p < 0.001; PCA-2: 18.1 ± 7.2% vs. 14.6 ± 5.5%; p < 0.001). T-wave metrics were consistent across multiple ECGs from individual patients based on the average intraclass correlation coefficient (MCS: 0.96; PCA-2: 0.86).

Conclusions:
Automated T-wave morphology analysis accurately discriminates patients with pathogenic LQTS mutations from control subjects and between the 2 most common LQTS subtypes. Mutation carriers without baseline QTc prolongation were also identified. This may be a useful tool for screening families of LQTS patients, particularly when the QTc interval is subthreshold and genetic testing is unavailable

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Gene therapy to treat cardiac arrhythmias

Bongianino R, Priori SG.

Nat Rev Cardiol. 2015 Sep;12(9):531-46. doi: 10.1038/nrcardio.2015.61

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Abstract

Gene therapy to treat electrical dysfunction of the heart is an appealing strategy because of the limited therapeutic options available to manage the most-severe cardiac arrhythmias, such as ventricular tachycardia, ventricular fibrillation, and asystole. However, cardiac genetic manipulation is challenging, given the complex mechanisms underlying arrhythmias. Nevertheless, the growing understanding of the molecular basis of these diseases, and the development of sophisticated vectors and delivery strategies, are providing researchers with adequate means to target specific genes and pathways involved in disorders of heart rhythm. Data from preclinical studies have demonstrated that gene therapy can be successfully used to modify the arrhythmogenic substrate and prevent life-threatening arrhythmias. Therefore, gene therapy might plausibly become a treatment option for patients with difficult-to-manage acquired arrhythmias and for those with inherited arrhythmias. In this Review, we summarize the preclinical studies into gene therapy for acquired and inherited arrhythmias of the atria or ventricles. We also provide an overview of the technical advances in the design of constructs and viral vectors to increase the efficiency and safety of gene therapy and to improve selective delivery to target organs.

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Inherited calcium channelopathies in the pathophysiology of arrhythmias

Venetucci L, Denegri M, Napolitano C, Priori SG.

Nat Rev Cardiol. 2012 Oct;9(10):561-75.

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Abstract

Regulation of calcium flux in the heart is a key process that affects cardiac excitability and contractility. Degenerative diseases, such as coronary artery disease, have long been recognized to alter the physiology of intracellular calcium regulation, leading to contractile dysfunction or arrhythmias. Since the discovery of the first gene mutation associated with catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia (CPVT) in 2001, a new area of interest in this field has emerged–the genetic abnormalities of key components of the calcium regulatory system. Such anomalies cause a variety of genetic diseases characterized by the development of life-threatening arrhythmias in young individuals. In this Review, we provide an overview of the structural organization and the function of calcium-handling proteins and describe the mechanisms by which mutations determine the clinical phenotype. Firstly, we discuss mutations in the genes encoding the ryanodine receptor 2 (RYR2) and calsequestrin 2 (CASQ2). These proteins are pivotal to the regulation of calcium release from the sarcoplasmic reticulum, and mutations can cause CPVT. Secondly, we review defects in genes encoding proteins that form the voltage-dependent L-type calcium channel, which regulates calcium entry into myocytes. Mutations in these genes cause various phenotypes, including Timothy syndrome, Brugada syndrome, and early repolarization syndrome. The identification of mutations associated with ‘calcium-handling diseases’ has led to an improved understanding of the role of calcium in cardiac physiology.

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Catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia: A paradigm to understand mechanisms of arrhythmias associated to impaired Ca(2+) regulation

Cerrone M, Napolitano C, Priori SG.

Heart Rhythm. 2009 Nov;6(11):1652-9.

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Abstract

In the 8 years since the discovery of the genetic bases of catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia (CPVT), we have witnessed a remarkable improvement of knowledge on arrhythmogenic mechanisms involving disruption of cardiac Ca(2+) homeostasis. Studies on the consequences of RyR2 and CASQ2 mutations in cellular systems and mouse models have shed new light on pathways that are also implicated in arrhythmias occurring in highly prevalent diseases, such as heart failure. This research track has also led to the identification of therapeutic targets of potential clinical impact to abate the burden of sudden death in CPVT. Here, we review the current knowledge on the pathophysiology of CPVT also highlighting the existing controversies and possible future development.

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Mutations in the cardiac ryanodine receptor gene (hRyR2) underlie catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia

Priori SG, Napolitano C, Tiso N, Memmi M, Vignati G, Bloise R, Sorrentino V, Danieli GA.

Circulation. 2001 Jan 16;103(2):196-200.

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Abstract

Background:
Catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia is a genetic arrhythmogenic disorder characterized by stress-induced, bidirectional ventricular tachycardia that may degenerate into cardiac arrest and cause sudden death. The electrocardiographic pattern of this ventricular tachycardia closely resembles the arrhythmias associated with calcium overload and the delayed afterdepolarizations observed during digitalis toxicity. We speculated that a genetically determined abnormality of intracellular calcium handling might be the substrate of the disease; therefore, we considered the human cardiac ryanodine receptor gene (hRyR2) a likely candidate for this genetically transmitted arrhythmic disorder.

Methods and results:
Twelve patients presenting with typical catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia in the absence of structural heart abnormalities were identified. DNA was extracted from peripheral blood lymphocytes, and single-strand conformation polymorphism analysis was performed on polymerase chain reaction-amplified exons of the hRyR2 gene. Four single nucleotide substitutions leading to missense mutations were identified in 4 probands affected by the disease. Genetic analysis of the asymptomatic parents revealed that 3 probands carried de novo mutations. In 1 case, the identical twin of the proband died suddenly after having suffered syncopal episodes. The fourth mutation was identified in the proband, in 4 clinically affected family members, and in none of 3 nonaffected family members in a kindred with 2 sudden deaths that occurred at 16 and 14 years, respectively, in the sisters of the proband.

Conclusions:
We demonstrated that, in agreement with our hypothesis, hRyR2 is a gene responsible for catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia.

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Interplay between genetic substrate, QTc duration, and arrhythmia risk in patients with long QT syndrome

Mazzanti A, Maragna R, Vacanti G, Monteforte N, Bloise R, Marino M, Braghieri L, Gambelli P, Memmi M, Pagan E, Morini M, Malovini A, Ortiz M, Sacilotto L, Bellazzi R, Monserrat L, Napolitano C, Bagnardi V, Priori SG

J Am Coll Cardiol. 2018 Apr 17;71(15):1663-1671

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Abstract

Background:
Long QT syndrome (LQTS) is a common inheritable arrhythmogenic disorder, often secondary to mutations in the KCNQ1, KCNH2, and SCN5A genes. The disease is characterized by a prolonged ventricular repolarization (QTc interval) that confers susceptibility to life-threatening arrhythmic events (LAEs).

Objectives:
This study sought to create an evidence-based risk stratification scheme to personalize the quantification of the arrhythmic risk in patients with LQTS.

Methods:
Data from 1,710 patients with LQTS followed up for a median of 7.1 years (interquartile range [IQR]: 2.7 to 13.4 years) were analyzed to estimate the 5-year risk of LAEs based on QTc duration and genotype and to assess the antiarrhythmic efficacy of beta-blockers.

Results:
The relationship between QTc duration and risk of events was investigated by comparison of linear and cubic spline models, and the linear model provided the best fit. The 5-year risk of LAEs while patients were off therapy was then calculated in a multivariable Cox model with QTc and genotype considered as independent factors. The estimated risk of LAEs increased by 15% for every 10-ms increment of QTc duration for all genotypes. Intergenotype comparison showed that the risk for patients with LQT2 and LQT3 increased by 130% and 157% at any QTc duration versus patients with LQT1. Analysis of response to beta-blockers showed that only nadolol reduced the arrhythmic risk in all genotypes significantly compared with no therapy (hazard ratio: 0.38; 95% confidence interval: 0.15 to 0.93; p = 0.03).

Conclusions:
The study provides an estimator of risk of LAEs in LQTS that allows a granular estimate of 5-year arrhythmic risk and demonstrate the superiority of nadolol in reducing the risk of LAEs in LQTS.

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A cryo-EM-based model of phosphorylation- and FKBP12.6-mediated allosterism of the cardiac ryanodine receptor

Dhindwal S, Lobo J, Cabra V, Santiago DJ, Nayak AR, Dryden K, Samsó M.

Sci Signal. 2017 May 23;10(480).

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Abstract

Type 2 ryanodine receptors (RyR2s) are calcium channels that play a vital role in triggering cardiac muscle contraction by releasing calcium from the sarcoplasmic reticulum into the cytoplasm. Several cardiomyopathies are associated with the abnormal functioning of RyR2. We determined the three-dimensional structure of rabbit RyR2 in complex with the regulatory protein FKBP12.6 in the closed state at 11.8 Å resolution using cryo-electron microscopy and built an atomic model of RyR2. The heterogeneity in the data set revealed two RyR2 conformations that we proposed to be related to the extent of phosphorylation of the P2 domain. Because the more flexible conformation may correspond to RyR2 with a phosphorylated P2 domain, we suggest that phosphorylation may set RyR2 in a conformation that needs less energy to transition to the open state. Comparison of RyR2 from cardiac muscle and RyR1 from skeletal muscle showed substantial structural differences between the two, especially in the helical domain 2 (HD2) structure forming the Clamp domain, which participates in quaternary interactions with the dihydropyridine receptor and neighboring RyRs in RyR1 but not in RyR2. Rigidity of the HD2 domain of RyR2 was enhanced by binding of FKBP12.6, a ligand that stabilizes RyR2 in the closed state. These results help to decipher the molecular basis of the different mechanisms of activation and oligomerization of the RyR isoforms and could be extended to RyR complexes in other tissues.

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Adeno-associated virus-mediated CASQ2 delivery rescues phenotypic alterations in a patient-specific model of recessive catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia

Lodola F, Morone D, Denegri M, Bongianino R, Nakahama H, Rutigliano L, Gosetti R, Rizzo G, Vollero A, Buonocore M, Napolitano C, Condorelli G, Priori SG, Di Pasquale.

Cell Death Dis. 2016 Oct 6;7(10):e2393

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Abstract

Catecholaminergic Polymorphic Ventricular Tachycardia type 2 (CPVT2) is a highly lethal recessive arrhythmogenic disease caused by mutations in the calsequestrin-2 (CASQ2) gene. We have previously demonstrated that viral transfer of the wild-type (WT) CASQ2 gene prevents the development of CPVT2 in a genetically induced mouse model of the disease homozygous carrier of the R33Q mutation. In the present study, we investigated the efficacy of the virally mediated gene therapy in cardiomyocytes (CMs) differentiated from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) obtained from a patient carrying the homozygous CASQ2-G112+5X mutation. To this end, we infected cells with an Adeno-Associated Viral vector serotype 9 (AAV9) encoding the human CASQ2 gene (AAV9-hCASQ2). Administration of the human WT CASQ2 gene was capable and sufficient to restore the physiological expression of calsequestrin-2 protein and to rescue functional defects of the patient-specific iPSC-derived CMs. Indeed, after viral gene transfer, we observed a remarkable decrease in the percentage of delayed afterdepolarizations (DADs) developed by the diseased CMs upon adrenergic stimulation, the calcium transient amplitude was re-established and the density and duration of calcium sparks were normalized. We therefore demonstrate the efficacy of the AAV9-mediated gene replacement therapy for CPVT2 in a human cardiac-specific model system, supporting the view that the gene-therapy tested is curative in models with different human mutations of CPVT.

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Single delivery of an adeno-associated viral construct to transfer the CASQ2 gene to knock-in mice affected by catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia is able to cure the disease from birth to advanced age

Denegri M, Bongianino R, Lodola F, Boncompagni S, De Giusti VC, Avelino-Cruz JE, Liu N, Persampieri S, Curcio A, Esposito F, Pietrangelo L, Marty I, Villani L, Moyaho A, Baiardi P, Auricchio A, Protasi F, Napolitano C, Priori SG.

Circulation. 2014 Jun 24;129(25):2673-81

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Abstract

Background:
Catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia is an inherited arrhythmogenic disorder characterized by sudden cardiac death in children. Drug therapy is still insufficient to provide full protection against cardiac arrest, and the use of implantable defibrillators in the pediatric population is limited by side effects. There is therefore a need to explore the curative potential of gene therapy for this disease. We investigated the efficacy and durability of viral gene transfer of the calsequestrin 2 (CASQ2) wild-type gene in a catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia knock-in mouse model carrying the CASQ2(R33Q/R33Q) (R33Q) mutation.

Methods and results:
We engineered an adeno-associated viral vector serotype 9 (AAV9) containing cDNA of CASQ2 wild-type (AAV9-CASQ2) plus the green fluorescent protein (GFP) gene to infect newborn R33Q mice studied by in vivo and in vitro protocols at 6, 9, and 12 months to investigate the ability of the infection to prevent the disease and adult R33Q mice studied after 2 months to assess whether the AAV9-CASQ2 delivery could revert the catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia phenotype. In both protocols, we observed the restoration of physiological expression and interaction of CASQ2, junctin, and triadin; the rescue of electrophysiological and ultrastructural abnormalities in calcium release units present in R33Q mice; and the lack of life-threatening arrhythmias.

Conclusions:
Our data demonstrate that viral gene transfer of wild-type CASQ2 into the heart of R33Q mice prevents and reverts severe manifestations of catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia and that this curative effect lasts for 1 year after a single injection of the vector, thus posing the rationale for the design of a clinical trial.

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Viral gene transfer rescues arrhythmogenic phenotype and ultrastructural abnormalities in adult calsequestrin-null mice with inherited arrhythmias

Denegri M, Avelino-Cruz JE, Boncompagni S, De Simone SA, Auricchio A, Villani L, Volpe P, Protasi F, Napolitano C, Priori SG.

Circ Res. 2012 Mar 2;110(5):663-8.

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Abstract

Rationale:
Catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia is an inherited disease that predisposes to cardiac arrest and sudden death. The disease is associated with mutations in the genes encoding for the cardiac ryanodine receptor (RyR2) and cardiac calsequestrin (CASQ2). CASQ2 mutations lead to a major loss of CASQ2 monomers, possibly because of enhanced degradation of the mutant protein. The decrease of CASQ2 is associated with a reduction in the levels of Triadin (TrD) and Junctin (JnC), two proteins that form, with CASQ2 and RyR2, a macromolecular complex devoted to control of calcium release from the sarcoplasmic reticulum.

Objective:
We intended to evaluate whether viral gene transfer of wild-type CASQ2 may rescue the broad spectrum of abnormalities caused by mutant CASQ2.

Methods and results:
We used an adeno-associated serotype 9 viral vector to express a green fluorescent protein-tagged CASQ2 construct. Twenty weeks after intraperitoneal injection of the vector in neonate CASQ2 KO mice, we observed normalization of the levels of calsequestrin, triadin, and junctin, rescue of electrophysiological and ultrastructural abnormalities caused by CASQ2 ablation, and lack of life-threatening arrhythmias.

Conclusions:
We have proven the concept that induction of CASQ2 expression in knockout mice reverts the molecular, structural, and electric abnormalities and prevents life-threatening arrhythmias in CASQ2-defective catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia mice. These data support the view that development of CASQ2 viral gene transfer could have clinical application.

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Ca(V)1.2 calcium channel dysfunction causes a multisystem disorder including arrhythmia and autism

Splawski I, Timothy KW, Sharpe LM, Decher N, Kumar P, Bloise R, Napolitano C, Schwartz PJ, Joseph RM, Condouris K, Tager-Flusberg H, Priori SG, Sanguinetti MC, Keating MT.

Cell. 2004 Oct 1;119(1):19-31

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Abstract

Ca(V)1.2, the cardiac L-type calcium channel, is important for excitation and contraction of the heart. Its role in other tissues is unclear. Here we present Timothy syndrome, a novel disorder characterized by multiorgan dysfunction including lethal arrhythmias, webbing of fingers and toes, congenital heart disease, immune deficiency, intermittent hypoglycemia, cognitive abnormalities, and autism. In every case, Timothy syndrome results from the identical, de novo Ca(V)1.2 missense mutation G406R. Ca(V)1.2 is expressed in all affected tissues. Functional expression reveals that G406R produces maintained inward Ca(2+) currents by causing nearly complete loss of voltage-dependent channel inactivation. This likely induces intracellular Ca(2+) overload in multiple cell types. In the heart, prolonged Ca(2+) current delays cardiomyocyte repolarization and increases risk of arrhythmia, the ultimate cause of death in this disorder. These discoveries establish the importance of Ca(V)1.2 in human physiology and development and implicate Ca(2+) signaling in autism.

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