Troponin, or the troponin complex, is a complex of three regulatory proteins (troponin C, troponin I, and troponin T) that is integral to muscle contraction in skeletal muscle and cardiac muscle, but not smooth muscle. Blood troponin levels may be used as a diagnostic marker for stroke, although the sensitivity of this assay is low.

Troponin is a component of thin filaments (along with actin and tropomyosin), and is the protein complex to which calcium binds to trigger the production of muscular force. Troponin itself has three subunits, TnC, TnI, and TnT, each playing a role in force regulation. Under resting intracellular levels of calcium, tropomyosin covers the active sites on actin to which myosin (a molecular motor organized in muscle thick filaments) binds in order to generate force. When calcium becomes bound to specific sites in the N-domain of TnC, a series of protein structural changes occurs such that tropomyosin is rolled away from myosin-binding sites on actin, allowing myosin to attach to the thin filament and produce force and/or shorten the sarcomere.

Certain subtypes of troponin (cardiac I and T) are sensitive and specific indicators of damage to the heart muscle (myocardium). They are measured in the blood to differentiate between unstable angina and myocardial infarction (heart attack) in people with chest pain or acute coronary syndrome. A person who recently had a myocardial infarction would have an area of damaged heart muscle and elevated cardiac troponin levels in the blood. This can also occur in people with coronary vasospasm, a type of myocardial infarction involving severe constriction of the cardiac blood vessels. After a myocardial infarction troponins may remain high for up to 2 weeks.

Troponins are also increased in patients with heart failure, where they also predict mortality and ventricular rhythm abnormalities. They can rise in inflammatory conditions such as myocarditis and pericarditis with heart muscle involvement (which is then termed myopericarditis). Troponins can also indicate several forms of cardiomyopathy, such as dilated cardiomyopathy, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy or (left) ventricular hypertrophy, peripartum cardiomyopathy, Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, or infiltrative disorders such as cardiac amyloidosis.

Chemotherapy agents can exert toxic effects on the heart (examples include anthracycline, cyclophosphamide, 5-fluorouracil, and cisplatin). Several toxins and venoms can also lead to heart muscle injury (scorpion venom, snake venom, and venom from jellyfish and centipedes). Carbon monoxide poisoning or cyanide poisoning can also be accompanied by release of troponins due to hypoxic cardiotoxic effects. Cardiac injury occurs in about one-third of severe CO poisoning cases, and troponin screening is appropriate in these patients.

First cTnI and later cTnT were originally used as markers for cardiac cell death. Both proteins are now widely used to diagnose acute myocardial infarction (AMI), unstable angina, post-surgery myocardium trauma and some other diseases related with cardiac muscle injury. Both markers can be detected in patient“s blood 3÷6 hours after onset of the chest pain, reaching peak level within 16÷30 hours. Elevated concentration of cTnI and cTnT in blood samples can be detected even 5÷8 days after onset of the symptoms, making both proteins useful also for the late diagnosis of AMI.