The research is reported in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. At this point it is unclear whether subtle defects in SRF might also be linked to adult cardiovascular disease. However, the research provides a foundation for understanding how gene mutations may disrupt heart function, perhaps making some adults more susceptible to heart failure or irregular reactions to drugs.
"One reason for studying the biology of our genetic blueprint is so that we can understand how mutations in the genes encoding for proteins such as SRF may relate to human disease," says Joseph M. Miano, Ph.D., associate professor of Medicine in the Center for Cardiovascular Research at the University's Aab Institute of Biomedical Sciences. "Defining the full spectrum of genetic mutations is key to genetic screening and gene-based therapies."
SRF is one of nature's oldest proteins and is essential for life because it supports the basic internal structure of all living cells. Its function is to carefully turn on 300 of our 30,000 genes. But until now, scientists did not know much about its role in the heart region.
Miano's laboratory led a collaborative study of SRF with investigators from the Medical College of Wisconsin and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. They studied mouse embryos, using genetic trickery to nullify SRF in heart cells and key blood vessel cells called smooth muscle cells. They compared the mutant mice to those with a normal amount of SRF in the heart and blood vessels. The heart and related vessels did not develop properly in the mice without SRF, the team discovered.