Cardiac troponin I (cTnI), a biomarker for myocardial damage and risk stratification, may be involved in the pathogenesis of cardiovascular diseases, which was ascribed to the effect of cTnI auto-antibodies. Whether or not cTnI itself has a direct impact on acute myocardial injury is unknown. To exclude the influence of cTnI antibody on the cardiac infarct size, we studied the effect of cTnI shortly after myocardial ischaemia–reperfusion (I/R) injury when cTnI antibodies were not elevated. Pretreatment with cTnI augmented the myocardial infarct size caused by I/R, accompanied by an increase in inflammatory markers in the blood and myocardium. Additional experiments using human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs) showed that the detrimental effect of cTnI was related to cTnI-induced increase in vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 (VCAM-1) expression and VCAM-1 mediated adhesion of human monocytes (THP-1) to HUVECs, which could be neutralized by VCAM-1 antibody. Both toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4) and nuclear factor-κB (NF-κB) were involved in the signalling pathway, because blockade of either TLR4 or NF-κB inhibited the cTnI's effect on VCAM-1 expression and adhesion of monocytes to endothelial cells. Moreover, TLR4 inhibition reduced cTnI-augmented cardiac injury in rats with I/R injury. We conclude that cTnI exacerbates myocardial I/R injury by inducing the adhesion of monocytes to vascular endothelial cells via activation of the TLR4/NF-κB pathway. Inhibition of TLR4 may be an alternative strategy to reduce cTnI-induced myocardial I/R injury.

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