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Researchers now able to look deep into heart to view triggers of a heart's beat

particular exhibited excitation at wavelengths far into the red region of the spectrum, wavelengths significantly longer than the other dyes. Since longer wavelengths of light can penetrate farther into tissue, this dye can image the electrical activity of cells deeper inside the heart, noted Dr. Ernst, senior research scientist at Carnegie Mellon's MBIC.

Using animal models, the researchers have been interested in understanding what mechanisms influence long QT intervals, the time that it takes a depolarized cell to return to its repolarized state. Structural abnormalities of potassium channels have been associated with a hereditary condition called Long QT Syndrome, which affects between 5,000 and 10,000 people in the United States and can have fatal consequences, with boys and women with the syndrome at greatest risk for sudden cardiac death. Yet, for reasons not well understood, it's normal for women of pre-menopausal age to have slightly prolonged QT intervals.

Because many commonly used drugs, including the antibiotic erythromycin, decongestants containing epinephrine and anti-depressants, can block potassium channels, any woman in her 30s and 40s can be at risk for drug-induced ventricular arrhythmias, and potentially, sudden cardiac death.

"The prevailing view is that abnormal potassium channels cause long QT intervals, and therefore, must be what causes arrhythmias as well. But not everyone with a long QT interval experiences arrhythmias. We're beginning to see that the determining factor is an added problem involving the sodium-calcium exchanger and may help explain the differences in risk between men and women," said Dr. Salama.

The new voltage-sensitive dyes, together with novel optical techniques, have greatly enhanced the understanding of how the heart works. Research will continue toward the development of a high-speed, depth-resolved 3-D imaging system that makes use of what may be the fastest camera at 100x100 pi
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17-Apr-2006


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