A systems approach using Diversity Outbred mice distinguishes the cardiovascular effects and genetics of circulating GDF11 from those of its homolog, myostatin.
Growth differentiation factor 11 (GDF11) is a member of the TGF-β protein family that has been implicated in the development of cardiac hypertrophy. While some studies have suggested that systemic GDF11 protects against cardiomyocyte enlargement and left ventricular wall thickening, there remains uncertainty about the true impact of GDF11 and whether its purported effects are actually attributable to its homolog myostatin. This study was conducted to resolve the statistical and genetic relationships among GDF11, myostatin, and cardiac hypertrophy in a mouse model of human genetics, the Diversity Outbred (DO) stock. In the DO population, serum GDF11 concentrations positively correlated with cardiomyocyte cross-sectional area, while circulating myostatin levels were negatively correlated with body weight, heart weight, and left ventricular wall thickness and mass. Genetic analyses revealed that serum GDF11 concentrations are modestly heritable (0.23) and identified a suggestive peak on murine chromosome 3 in close proximity to the gene Hey1, a transcriptional repressor. Bioinformatic analyses located putative binding sites for the HEY1 protein upstream of the Gdf11 gene in the mouse and human genomes. In contrast, serum myostatin concentrations were more heritable (0.57) than GDF11 concentrations, and mapping identified a significant locus near the gene FoxO1, which has binding motifs within the promoter regions of human and mouse myostatin genes. Together, these findings more precisely define the independent cardiovascular effects of GDF11 and myostatin, as well as their distinct regulatory pathways. Hey1 is a compelling candidate for the regulation of GDF11 and will be further evaluated in future studies.