The origins of congenital heart defects could be traced right back to the first stages of embryonic development — according to University of East Anglia (UEA) research.
Transcription factor Ajuba regulates stem cell activity in the heart during embryonic development. It is not unusual for babies to be born with congenital heart defects. This is because the development of the heart in the embryo is a process which is not only extremely complex, but also error-prone. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Heart and Lung Research in Bad Nauheim have now identified a key molecule that plays a central role in regulating the function of stem cells in the heart. As a result, not only could congenital heart defects be avoided in future, but new ways of stimulating the regeneration of damaged hearts in adults may be opened up.
Damaged heart tissue is not known for having much inherent capacity for repair. But now, scientists are closing in on signals that may be able to coax the heart into producing replacement cardiac muscle cells. Using a zebrafish model system, researchers have identified a family of molecules that can stimulate stem cells to develop into beating heart muscle cells. The research, published by Cell Press in the December 21st issue of the journal Chemistry & Biology, may pave the way towards new therapeutic approaches for cardiac regeneration and repair.