BACKGROUND: Tetralogy of Fallot (ToF) and Atrial Septal Defects (ASD) are the most common types of congenital heart diseases and a major cause of childhood morbidity and mortality. Cardiopulmonary bypass (CPB) is used during corrective cardiac surgery to support circulation and heart stabilization. However, this procedure triggers systemic inflammatory and stress response and consequent increased risk of postoperative complications. The aim of this study was to define the molecular bases of ToF and ASD pathogenesis and response to CPB and identify new potential biomarkers.
METHODS: Comparative transcriptome analysis of right atrium specimens collected from 10 ToF and 10 ASD patients was conducted before (Pre-CPB) and after (Post-CPB) corrective surgery. Total RNA isolated from each sample was individually hybridized on Affymetrix HG-U133 Plus Array Strips containing 38,500 unique human genes. Differences in the gene expression profiles and functional enrichment/network analyses were assessed using bioinformatic tools. qRT-PCR analysis was used to validate gene modulation.
RESULTS: Pre-CPB samples showed significant differential expression of a total of 72 genes, 28 of which were overexpressed in ToF and 44 in ASD. According to Gene Ontology annotation, the mostly enriched biological processes were represented by matrix organization and cell adhesion in ToF and by muscle development and contractility in ASD specimens. GSEA highlighted the specific enrichment of hypoxia gene sets in ToF samples, pointing to a role for hypoxia in disease pathogenesis. The post-CPB myocardium exhibited significant alterations in the expression profile of genes related to transcription regulation, growth/apoptosis, inflammation, adhesion/matrix organization, and oxidative stress. Among them, only 70 were common to the two disease groups, whereas 110 and 24 were unique in ToF and ASD, respectively. Multiple functional interactions among differentially expressed gene products were predicted by network analysis. Interestingly, gene expression changes in ASD samples followed a consensus hypoxia profile.
CONCLUSION: Our results provide a comprehensive view of gene reprogramming in right atrium tissues of ToF and ASD patients before and after CPB, defining specific molecular pathways underlying disease pathophysiology and myocardium response to CPB. These findings have potential translational value because they identify new candidate prognostic markers and targets for tailored cardioprotective post-surgical therapies.