Researchers have identified a gene that regulates the heart's ability to regenerate after an injury, such as a heart attack.
Scientists at the University of Texas, led by Dr. Hesham Sadek, had previously shown that a newborn mammal's heart could regenerate and repair injuries through cell division, but rapidly lost that ability as the newborn developed. They noticed that the gene called Meis1 became significantly more active in heart cells soon after birth, when the heart muscle cells stop dividing, and wondered about its role.
Sadek's team deleted Meis1 from the hearts of newborn mice and demonstrated that the regenerative period was lengthened. The researchers were also able to re-activate the regenerative process in adult mouse hearts by removing the gene.
"Meis1 controls several genes that normally act as brakes on cell division," Sadek explains, comparing it to an on-off switch for making adult heart cells divide. The finding could provide a new approach to heart regeneration research, which currently focuses on the use of stem cells to replace damaged heart cells. Sadek says it "could introduce a new era in treatment for heart failure."
The findings of Sadek and his colleagues are published online in the journal Nature.