Chickens could answer riddles of the human heart

January 22nd, 2009 - 11:18 am ICT by IANS  

Washington, Jan 22 (IANS) Researchers are looking to chicken to figure out the riddles of the human heart.The heart is the first organ to develop and is critical in supplying blood to the rest of the body. Yet, little is known about the complex processes that regulate the heartbeat.

A Missouri University (MU) researcher has identified certain proteins within the heart muscle that play an vital regulatory role in embryonic heartbeat control.

Researchers examined embryonic chickens’ hearts, which develop morphologically and functionally similarly to human hearts, and tested the electrical activity present in the cardiac muscle cells over a period of 24 hours.

They found that changes in local proteins have important effects on embryonic heart beat control.

“Electrical activity in the heart appears in very early stages of development,” said Luis Polo-Parada, assistant professor of medical pharmacology and physiology in the MU School of Medicine and investigator in the Dalton Cardiovascular Research Centre.

“This study determined the role of the heart micro-environment in regulating electrical activity in cardiac cells that are required for normal cardiac function. Understanding exactly how a heart is made and how it begins to function will allow us to significantly improve therapies for hypertension, cardiac fibrosis, cardiac hypertrophy and congestive heart failure,” said Polo-Parada.

Cardiac function depends on appropriate timing of contraction in various regions of the heart. Fundamental to the control of the heart are the electrical signals that arise within the heart cells that initiate contraction of the heart muscle.

The upper chambers of the heart, the atria, must contract before the lower chambers, the ventricles, to obtain a coordinated contraction that will propel the blood throughout the body, said an MU release.

While scientists understand the gross actions of the electrical signals that drive cardiac contraction, little is known about changes in the local environment of the embryonic and adult heart cells that influence these contractions.

The study is scheduled for publication in Developmental Dynamics.

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