Research areas: cardiovascular disease, cardiac mechanobiology, epigenetics, sex differences
Claudia Crocini is a DZHK junior research group leader at the Max Rubner Center for Cardiovascular Metabolic Renal Research at the Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin. With her team, she is researching how male and female heart cells differ. To do this, she is cultivating heart muscle and connective tissue cells, both cell types that occur in the heart, from induced pluripotent stem cells from healthy men and women. To detect the differences in the heart, the biotechnologist examines how well the heart muscle cells can contract; she also analyses ionic currents and how impulses are transmitted. In addition, she and her team are looking at which sex-dependent factors regulate the activity of the genes.
Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death for both men and women worldwide, yet the female heart has been traditionally overlooked in cardiac research at any level. Differences between male and female hearts are present even in healthy individuals and include difference of heart rates, metabolism, gene expression, and epigenetics. Men and women also exhibit distinct disease risks and symptoms, which cannot solely be attributed to hormonal differences.
Despite an overwhelming body of evidence that demonstrates cellular and subcellular sex-dependent differences in the human heart, biological sex of cells used in in laboratory studies is rarely taken into consideration or even reported. Clearly, there is a need to reform cell-based research to consider biological sex, in order to enhance the accuracy of predictive modeling, animal studies, and clinical trials, and in turn, effectively treat all patients with cardiovascular diseases.
The focus of the Crocini lab is to study sex-dependent differences in human cardiac cells leveraging on stem cell technologies, tissue engineering, and computational modeling. The group will combine a variety of experimental assays, such as voltage and calcium imaging, contractility measurements, and next-generation sequencing, to identify sex-specific signatures at the basis of cardiac cell function.
Claudia Crocini’s goal is to discover novel regulatory mechanisms of cardiac function to enhance the development of sex-specific treatments for cardiovascular disease in humans.
Major achievements and awards
- First prize: Best Postdoc at the MDC (2022)
- Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship: "TiGER: Titin can govern epigenetic remodelling” (2021)
- American Heart Association - Postdoc Fellowship: “Dissecting the mechanisms of post-prandial cardiac adaptation in pythons” (2020)
- Travel award: at 64th Biophysical Society Meeting San Diego U.S.A. (2020)
- HSFP - Long-Term Fellowship: “Assessment of the molecular mechanisms underlying regression of cardiac growth in pythons” (2017)
Gotthardt M, Badillo-Lisakowski V, Parikh V, Ashley E, Furtado M, Carmo-Fonseca M, Schudy S, Meder B, Grosch M, Steinmetz L, Crocini C, Leinwand LA. Cardiac splicing as a diagnostic and therapeutic target. Nat Rev Cardiol 2023 https://doi.org/10.1038/s41569-022-00828-0
Lehman SJ*, Crocini C*, Leinwand LA. Targeting the sarcomere in inherited cardiomyopathies. Nat Rev Cardiol 2022 https://doi.org/10.1038/s41569-022-00682-0
Muehleman D*, Crocini C*, Swearinger A, Ozeroff, C, Leinwand LA. Pathological cardiac hypertrophy and regression depends on trigger and is modulated by sex. Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol 2022 https://doi.org/10.1152/ajpheart.00644.2021
Crocini C# and Gotthardt M. Cardiac sarcomere mechanics in health and disease. Biophysical Reviews 2021 https://doi.org/10.1007/s12551-021-00840-7
Walker CJ, Crocini C, Ramirez D, Killaars AR, Grim JC, Aguado BA, Clark SK, Allen MA, Dowell R, Leinwand LA*, Anseth KS*. Nuclear mechanosensing drives epigenetic remodeling of the persistently activated myofibroblast. Nat Biomed Eng 2021 https://doi.org/10.1038/s41551-021-00709-w
Crocini C*, Walker CJ*, Anseth KS, Leinwand LA. Three-dimensional encapsulation of adult mouse cardiomyocytes in hydrogels with tunable stiffness. Prog Biophys Mol Biol. 2020 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pbiomolbio.2019.04.008
Crocini C, Ferrantini C, Coppini R, Scardigli M, Yan P, Loew LM, Smith GL, Cerbai E, Poggesi C, Pavone FS, Sacconi L. Optogenetics design of mechanistically-based stimulation patterns for cardiac defibrillation. Sci Rep 2016 https://doi.org/10.1038/srep35628
Crocini C, Ferrantini C, Scardigli M, Coppini R, Mazzoni L, Lazzeri E, Pioner JM, Scellini B, Guo A, Song LS, Yan P, Loew LM, Tardif J, Tesi C, Vanzi F, Cerbai E, Pavone FS, Sacconi L, Poggesi C. Novel insights on the relationship between t-tubular defects and contractile dysfunction in a mouse model of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. J Mol Cell Cardiol 2016 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.yjmcc.2015.12.013
Crocini C, Coppini R, Ferrantini C, Yan P, Loew LM, Tesi C, Cerbai E, Poggesi C, Pavone FS, Sacconi L. Defects of T-tubular electrical activity underlie alterations of local Ca2+ release in heart failure. Proc Nat Acad Sci 2014 https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1411557111
*These authors contributed equally to this work