Reprogramming metabolism in mice allows damaged hearts to regenerate, according to a study conducted by scientists at the Max Planck Institute. Unlike most tissues in the body, heart muscle cells are unable to regenerate after an injury, leading to the formation of scar tissue and potential complications such as heart attacks and heart failure. The researchers found that the key difference between heart muscle cells and other tissues lies in their energy metabolism. While most tissues derive energy from sugars through glycolysis, the heart utilizes fatty acids through fatty acid oxidation. The team hypothesized that reprogramming the energy metabolism of heart cells could reignite their regeneration capabilities.
To test their hypothesis, the researchers switched off a gene called Cpt1b in mice, which is responsible for fatty acid oxidation. As a result, the hearts of these mice showed significant growth, with a nearly twofold increase in cell numbers. The team then induced heart attacks in mice lacking the Cpt1b gene and subsequently reoxygenated their hearts. After a few weeks, the scarring of the heart tissue was significantly reduced compared to the control group, and heart function returned to almost pre-incident levels. Further investigation revealed that switching off the Cpt1b gene triggers a cascade of events that reverts the maturity state of cardiac muscle cells, enabling them to regenerate.
While the study was conducted solely in mice as a proof of concept, the researchers believe that there is potential for human applications. Blocking the activity of the enzyme produced by the Cpt1b gene could be achieved through the development of drugs, offering similar regenerative effects in human patients. However, it should be noted that the pathway to clinical use is still in its early stages. Other studies have explored the use of stem cells or mRNA to regenerate the heart as well.
The findings of this study offer new possibilities for treating heart damage and could potentially lead to the development of innovative therapies for heart attack patients. Although further research is needed to validate these findings and explore the feasibility of applying them in a clinical setting, the study provides a promising foundation for future investigations in cardiac regeneration. The team’s research was published in the journal Nature.
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