Discussions of troponin often pertain to its functional characteristics and usefulness as a diagnostic marker or therapeutic target for various heart disorders, in particular as a highly specific marker for myocardial infarction or heart muscle cell death.
Troponin is attached to the protein tropomyosin and lies within the groove between actin filaments in muscle tissue. In a relaxed muscle, tropomyosin blocks the attachment site for the myosincrossbridge, thus preventing contraction. When the muscle cell is stimulated to contract by an action potential, calcium channels open in the sarcoplasmic membrane and release calcium into the sarcoplasm. Some of this calcium attaches to troponin, which causes it to change shape, exposing binding sites for myosin (active sites) on the actinfilaments. Myosin's binding to actin causes crossbridge formation, and contraction of the muscle begins.
Troponin activation. Troponin C (red) binds Ca2+, which stabilizes the activated state, where troponin I (yellow) is no longer bound to actin. Troponin T (blue) anchors the complex on tropomyosin.
Troponin is found in both skeletal muscle and cardiac muscle, but the specific versions of troponin differ between types of muscle. The main difference is that the TnC subunit of troponin in skeletal muscle has four calcium ion-binding sites, whereas in cardiac muscle there are only three. Views on the actual amount of calcium that binds to troponin vary from expert to expert and source to source.
In both cardiac and skeletal muscles, muscular force production is controlled primarily by changes in the intracellular calcium concentration. In general, when calcium rises, the muscles contract and, when calcium falls, the muscles relax.
Troponin is a component of thin filaments (along with actin and tropomyosin), and is the protein complex to which calcium binds to trigger the production of muscular force. Troponin itself has three subunits, TnC, TnI, and TnT, each playing a role in force regulation. Under resting intracellular levels of calcium, tropomyosin covers the active sites on actin to which myosin (a molecular motor organized in muscle thick filaments) binds in order to generate force. When calcium becomes bound to specific sites in the N-domain of TnC, a series of protein structural changes occurs such that tropomyosin is rolled away from myosin-binding sites on actin, allowing myosin to attach to the thin filament and produce force and/or shorten the sarcomere.
TnT is a tropomyosin-binding subunit which regulates the interaction of troponin complex with thin filaments; TnI inhibits ATP-ase activity of acto-myosin; TnC is a Ca2+-binding subunit, playing the main role in Ca2+ dependent regulation of muscle contraction.
TnT and TnI in cardiac muscle are presented by forms different from those in skeletal muscles. Two isoforms of TnI and two isoforms of TnT are expressed in human skeletal muscle tissue (skTnI and skTnT). Only one tissue-specific isoform of TnI is described for cardiac muscle tissue (cTnI), whereas the existence of several cardiac specific isoforms of TnT (cTnT) are described in the literature. No cardiac specific isoforms are known for human TnC. TnC in human cardiac muscle tissue is presented by an isoform typical for slow skeletal muscle. Another form of TnC, fast skeletal TnC isoform, is more typical for fast skeletal muscles. cTnI is expressed only in myocardium. No examples of cTnI expression in healthy or injured skeletal muscle or in other tissue types are known. cTnT is probably less cardiac specific. Expression of cTnT in skeletal tissue of patients with chronic skeletal muscle injuries has been described.
Inside the cardiac troponin complex the strongest interaction between molecules has been demonstrated for cTnI – TnC binary complex especially in the presence of Ca2+ ( KA = 1.5x10−8 M−1). TnC, forming a complex with cTnI, changes the conformation of cTnI molecule and shields part of its surface. According to the latest data cTnI is released in the blood stream of the patient in the form of binary complex with TnC or ternary complex with cTnT and TnC. cTnI-TnC complex formation plays an important positive role in improving the stability of cTnI molecule. cTnI, which is extremely unstable in its free form, demonstrates significantly better stability in complex with TnC or in ternary cTnI-cTnT-TnC complex. It has been demonstrated that stability of cTnI in native complex is significantly better than stability of the purified form of the protein or the stability of cTnI in artificial troponin complexes combined from purified proteins.
Relation with contractile function and heart failure
An increased level of the cardiac protein isoform of troponin circulating in the blood has been shown to be a biomarker of heart disorders, the most important of which is myocardial infarction. Raised troponin levels indicate cardiac muscle cell death as the molecule is released into the blood upon injury to the heart.
Cardiac troponins are a marker of all heart muscle damage, not just myocardial infarction, which is the most severe form of heart disorder. However, diagnostic criteria for raised troponin indicating myocardial infarction is currently set by the WHO at a threshold of 2 μg or higher. Critical levels of other cardiac biomarkers are also relevant, such as creatine kinase. Other conditions that directly or indirectly lead to heart muscle damage and death can also increase troponin levels, such as renal failure. Severe tachycardia (for example due to supraventricular tachycardia) in an individual with normal coronary arteries can also lead to increased troponins for example, it is presumed due to increased oxygen demand and inadequate supply to the heart muscle.
The distinction between cardiac and non-cardiac conditions is somewhat artificial; the conditions listed below are not primary heart diseases, but they exert indirect effects on the heart muscle.
Troponins are increased in around 40% of patients with critical illnesses such as sepsis. There is an increased risk of mortality and length of stay in the intensive-care unit in these patients. In severe gastrointestinal bleeding, there can also be a mismatch between oxygen demand and supply of the myocardium.
In hypertensive disorders of pregnancy such as preeclampsia, elevated troponin levels indicate some degree of myofibrillary damage.
Cardiac troponin T and I can be used to monitor drug and toxin-induced cardiomyocyte toxicity. .
Elevated troponin levels are prognostically important in many of the conditions in which they are used for diagnosis.
In a community-based cohort study indicating the importance of silent cardiac damage, troponin I has been shown to predict mortality and first coronary heart disease event in men free from cardiovascular disease at baseline.
First cTnI and later cTnT were originally used as markers for cardiac cell death. Both proteins are now widely used to diagnose acute myocardial infarction (AMI), unstable angina, post-surgery myocardium trauma and some other diseases related with cardiac muscle injury. Both markers can be detected in patient’s blood 3–6 hours after onset of the chest pain, reaching peak level within 16–30 hours. Elevated concentration of cTnI and cTnT in blood samples can be detected even 5–8 days after onset of the symptoms, making both proteins useful also for the late diagnosis of AMI.
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