Activity of calcium-handling gene appears to prevent cardiac arrhythmias

Activation of a gene already shown to correct heart failure by improving calcium metabolism in the heart muscle may also help prevent arrhythmias, sometimes-dangerous disturbances in heart rhythm, according to a study from the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Cardiovascular Research Center (CVRC). The article, being released today in the early online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, describes how overexpression of the protein SERCA2a in the hearts of rats reduced the incidence of arrhythmia after heart muscle injury.

"If these results hold up in future studies, SERCA2a gene therapy could help protect patients at risk of arrhythmia because of existing heart disease or prevent rhythm disturbances that can occur after percutaneous coronary interventions," says Roger J. Hajjar, MD, of the CVRC and the MGH Heart Failure Center, the paper's senior author.

While arrhythmias are common, certain types may indicate serious heart disease. Significant rhythm disturbances of the ventricles the lower chambers that pump blood out of the heart can be dangerous. Ventricular fibrillation, in which the muscles contract in a rapid, uncoordinated fashion, is the leading cause of cardiac death occurring outside of a hospital. Such arrhythmias need to be stopped by application of electrical current through a defibrillator, and some patients with a history of fibrillation have permanent defibrillators implanted to correct their heart rhythm.

Contraction of any muscle cell requires the correct movement of calcium within the cell. It has been known for 20 years that heart failure in which the heart muscle is weak and does not pump effectively is associated with abnormal handling of calcium. Earlier research has shown that SERCA2a, which helps transport calcium between cellular structures, does not function well in heart failure. Cellular and animal studies by the same MGH CVRC team led by Federica del Monte, MD, PhD have con

Contact: Michelle Marcella
Massachusetts General Hospital

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