Reversible Ca2+ binding to troponin is the primary on-off switch of the contractile apparatus of striated muscles, including the heart. Dominant missense mutations in human cardiac troponin genes are among the causes of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) and dilated cardiomyopathy. Structural understanding of troponin action has recently advanced considerably via electron microscopy and molecular dynamics studies of the thin filament. As a result, it is now possible to examine cardiomyopathy-inducing troponin mutations in thin-filament structural context, and from that to seek new insight into pathogenesis and into the troponin regulatory mechanism. We compiled from consortium reports a representative set of troponin mutation sites whose pathogenicity was determined using standardized clinical genetics criteria. Another set of sites, apparently tolerant of amino acid substitutions, was compiled from the gnomAD v2 database. Pathogenic substitutions occurred predominantly in the areas of troponin that contact actin or tropomyosin, including, but not limited to, two regions of newly proposed structure and long-known implication in cardiomyopathy: the C-terminal third of troponin I and a part of the troponin T N terminus. The pathogenic mutations were located in troponin regions that prevent contraction under low Ca2+ concentration conditions. These regions contribute to Ca2+-regulated steric hindrance of myosin by the combined effects of troponin and tropomyosin. Loss-of-function mutations within these parts of troponin result in loss of inhibition, consistent with the hypercontractile phenotype characteristic of HCM. Notably, pathogenic mutations are absent in our dataset from the Ca2+-binding, activation-producing troponin C (TnC) N-lobe, which controls contraction by a multi-faceted mechanism. Apparently benign mutations are also diminished in the TnC N-lobe, suggesting mutations are poorly tolerated in that critical domain.
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