A team of researchers have discovered that communication between the heart genes may give rise to heart cells that can regenerate the human heart. Study author Mark Martindale decided to trace the evolutionary origin of muscle cells, like the ones that form our hearts. Martindale added that when analysing the function of its “heart genes,” they discovered a difference in the way these genes interact with one another, which may help explain its ability to regenerate. The findings suggested that the point to potential for tweaking communication between human genes and advancing our ability to treat heart conditions and stimulate regenerative healing, he said.
“Our study shows that if we learn more about the logic of how genes that give rise to heart cells, talk to each other, muscle regeneration in humans might be possible,” Martindale added. These heart genes generate what engineers calls lockdown loops in vertebrates and flies, which means that once the genes are turned on, they tell each other to stay on in an animal’s cells for its entire lifetime. In other words, animals with a lockdown on their genes cannot grow new heart parts or use those cells for other functions. “This ensures that heart cells always stay heart cells and cannot become any other type of cell,” Martindale said.
The findings suggest a mechanism for why the gut cells expressing heart genes in sea anemones can turn into other kinds of cells, such as those needed to regenerate damaged body parts, Martindale said. The study supports the idea that definitive muscle cells found in the majority of animals arose from a bifunctional gut tissue that had both absorptive and contractile properties. “The idea is these genes have been around a long time and preceded the twitchy muscles that cover our skeleton,” Martindale said. The research is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.