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Zebrafish may point the way to mending a broken heart

Howard Hughes Medical Institute researchers have found that the secret to mending a broken heart at least at the molecular level resides within the two-chambered heart of a fish commonly found in household aquariums. The scientists showed that the zebrafish can regenerate its heart after injury, and their studies suggest that understanding cardiac regeneration in this fish may lead to specific strategies to repair damaged human hearts.

Many studies have documented that various invertebrates can regenerate vital organs. But most vertebrates and all mammals develop scarring in response to cardiac injury, with minimal regeneration of heart muscle. In an article published in the December 13, 2002, issue of the journal Science, Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator Mark T. Keating and colleagues at Harvard Medical School and Children's Hospital in Boston report that the zebrafish is one vertebrate that is capable of cardiac regeneration. Two months after Keating and his colleagues removed 20 percent of the heart in zebrafish, the fish had fully regenerated the excised portion of the heart. Keating's group also reported that zebrafish with an induced mutation in a specific gene failed to regenerate heart tissue and instead developed scarring.

Improved understanding of heart regeneration and the associated problem of cardiac scarring have lagged behind "for want of a genetically manipulable system to study the problem," Keating said. Very few genetically well-characterized organisms regenerate damaged heart muscle, and most scientists who study regeneration focus on fully regenerating invertebrates including planarians, or flatworms, and the Hydra polyps, he said. In addition, the complex and poorly understood genomes of these organisms have proven difficult for scientists to manipulate in experiments.

Researchers have studied organ regeneration in vertebrates
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Contact: Jim Keeley
keeleyj@hhmi.org
301-215-8858
Howard Hughes Medical Institute
12-Dec-2002


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