Pressuring the heart to regenerate

By Megan Mayerle, PhD

The human heart’s structure and function can change in response to stress. Generally, heart muscle cells don’t regenerate. However, a team of scientists led by Stanford Cardiovascular Institute member Dr. Ronglih Liao have recently published a paper in the Journal of Molecular and Cellular Cardiology demonstrating that acute increases or decreases in pressure can trigger adult heart muscle cells to proliferate, and that such stimulation could be harnessed therapeutically to promote cardiac repair.

The researchers used a reversible surgical technique to increase pressure in the hearts of adult mice, and then after a week, returned pressure to normal in a subset of animals, and then used a molecular labeling technique observe heart cell proliferation. Increasing pressure stimulated cell proliferation, which interestingly was stimulated even further by releasing the pressure. The new cells had all the hallmarks of young heart cells, and tended to be found next to each other, suggesting that proliferation is a localized event.

The researchers’ hope is that by understanding how specific stimuli like changes in pressure trigger new heart cell formation, new therapeutic strategies to stimulate/augment natural cardiac regeneration and repair can be developed to help patients.

Dr. Ronglih Liao