Loss of the Atrial Fibrillation-Related Gene, Zfhx3, Results in Atrial Dilation and Arrhythmias

Heather S. Jameson, Alan Hanley, Matthew C. Hill, Ling Xiao, Jiangchuan Ye, Aneesh Bapat, Elsa Ronzier, Amelia Weber Hall, William J. Hucker, Sebastian Clauss, Miranda Barazza, Elizabeth Silber, Julie A. Mina, Nathan R. Tucker, Robert W. Mills, Jin Tang Dong, David J. Milan, Patrick T. Ellinor*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Background: ZFHX3 (zinc finger homeobox 3), a gene that encodes a large transcription factor, is at the second-most significantly associated locus with atrial fibrillation (AF), but its function in the heart is unknown. This study aims to identify causative genetic variation related to AF at the ZFHX3 locus and examine the impact of Zfhx3 loss on cardiac function in mice. Methods: CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing, chromatin immunoprecipitation, and luciferase assays in pluripotent stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes were used to identify causative genetic variation related to AF at the ZFHX3 locus. Cardiac function was assessed by echocardiography, magnetic resonance imaging, electrophysiology studies, calcium imaging, and RNA sequencing in mice with heterozygous and homozygous cardiomyocyte-restricted Zfhx3 loss (Zfhx3 Het and knockout, respectively). Human cardiac single-nucleus ATAC (assay for transposase-accessible chromatin)-sequencing data was analyzed to determine which genes in atrial cardiomyocytes are directly regulated by ZFHX3. Results: We found single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) rs12931021 modulates an enhancer regulating ZFHX3 expression, and the AF risk allele is associated with decreased ZFHX3 transcription. We observed a gene-dose response in AF susceptibility with Zfhx3 knockout mice having higher incidence, frequency, and burden of AF than Zfhx3 Het and wild-type mice, with alterations in conduction velocity, atrial action potential duration, calcium handling and the development of atrial enlargement and thrombus, and dilated cardiomyopathy. Zfhx3 loss results in atrial-specific differential effects on genes and signaling pathways involved in cardiac pathophysiology and AF. Conclusions: Our findings implicate ZFHX3 as the causative gene at the 16q22 locus for AF, and cardiac abnormalities caused by loss of cardiac Zfhx3 are due to atrial-specific dysregulation of pathways involved in AF susceptibility. Together, these data reveal a novel and important role for Zfhx3 in the control of cardiac genes and signaling pathways essential for normal atrial function.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)313-329
Number of pages17
JournalCirculation research
Issue number4
StatePublished - 4 Aug 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • atrial fibrillation
  • electrophysiology
  • mice
  • myocytes, cardiac
  • transcription factors


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