BOSTON -- Experiments on zebrafish provide important clues that could eventually lead to the ability to regenerate damaged human heart muscle, say researchers from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at Children's Hospital Boston. Reporting in the Dec. 13 issue of Science, a team led by HHMI investigator Mark T. Keating, MD, senior associate, department of Cardiology, showed for the first time that zebrafish can regenerate heart muscle within two months after a severe injury. The team also identified a possible genetic and molecular model for regeneration in zebrafish that could help direct further research in humans. The findings, while still in an early stage, might someday benefit millions of people who suffer heart attacks or experience other forms of cardiac injury.
The zebrafish is the subject of active study because of its ability to regenerate spinal cord, retina, and fins. This finding points to the study of zebrafish heart regeneration as a means to understand and reduce cardiac injury in humans. When a human heart is injured, it cannot "grow back" the damaged muscle, which is instead replaced by scar tissue. Too much scarring can impair the heart's ability to pump and can lead to life-threatening arrhythmias. Keating and his colleagues believe that zebrafish, unlike humans, have especially vigorous development of new heart-muscle cells, or cardiomyocytes. This proliferation of cells regenerates the heart muscle with little or no scarring.
"We think that there's a balance between scar formation and regeneration -- if you regenerate, you don't scar, but if you can't regenerate, you scar," Keating said. "If you inhibit cell proliferation in the zebrafish, the heart doesn't regenerate and instead scars, like in humans. The implication, which isn't proven, but is quite exciting, is that by enhancing human cardiomyocyte proliferation after heart injury, one may be able to enhance cardiac regeneration and reduce cardiac scarring."
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Contact: Elizabeth Andrews
Children's Hospital Boston
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