‘Oxygen affects heart’s ability to regenerate’

28 April 2014

The heart of a newborn animal can completely heal itself, but this is not the case in adults. Now scientists believe the muscle loses this ability because of oxygen.

Although our bodies need the chemical element to survive, it is highly reactive and can mix with other compounds to form toxic substances. Researchers from the University of Texas now believe this ability is the underlying reason behind the heart’s inability to regenerate in adults.

Dr. Hesham Sadek, senior author of the study, said: “Knowing the key mechanism that turns the heart's regenerative capacity off in newborns tells us how we might discover methods to reawaken that capacity in the adult mammalian heart.”

The oxygen-rich atmosphere experienced immediately after birth causes heart cells to build up mitochondria - a cell’s centre of strength - resulting in increased oxidisation. The mass production of the element damages DNA and causes cell cycle arrest.

Compared to the rest of our organs, the heart contains the highest amount of mitochondria and consumes 30 per cent of the body’s oxygen in a rest state alone. This means that the heart cells are unable to divide and generate.

This presents a problem as the heart cannot heal itself after injury, obstructing cardiovascular medicine. The new study provides insights into the issue and could be an important component of cardiomyocyte proliferation-based therapeutic approaches.

Posted by Jeanette Royston

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