Myocardial ischemia/reperfusion injury is a major cause of morbidity and mortality. The molecular signaling pathways involved in cardiac protection from myocardial ischemia/reperfusion injury are complex. An emerging idea in signal transduction suggests the existence of spatially organized complexes of signaling molecules in lipid-rich microdomains of the plasma membrane known as caveolae. Caveolins—proteins abundant in caveolae—provide a scaffold to organize, traffic, and regulate signaling molecules. Numerous signaling molecules involved in cardiac protection are known to exist within caveolae or interact directly with caveolins. Over the last 4 years, our laboratories have explored the hypothesis that caveolae are vitally important to cardiac protection from myocardial ischemia/reperfusion injury. We have provided evidence that (1) caveolae and the caveolin isoforms 1 and 3 are essential for cardiac protection from myocardial ischemia/reperfusion injury, (2) stimuli that produce preconditioning of cardiac myocytes, including brief periods of ischemia/reperfusion and exposure to volatile anesthetics, alter the number of membrane caveolae, and (3) cardiac myocyte-specific overexpression of caveolin-3 can produce innate cardiac protection from myocardial ischemia/reperfusion injury. The work demonstrates that caveolae and caveolins are critical elements of signaling pathways involved in cardiac protection and suggests that caveolins are unique targets for therapy in patients at risk of myocardial ischemia
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