Heart attacks and nerves

Nov 15, 2007

Scientists have found a naturally occurring protein, known as nerve growth factor, can dramatically improve the survival of heart cells.

Nerve growth factor (NGF) was once thought to act only on nerve cells in the body, but this study shows that it can have a protective effect on heart muscle cells in a heart attack model – the first time this has been shown.

The research, published in the current online issue of the journal Cell Death and Differentiation, was funded by the British Heart Foundation and led by Dr Costanza Emanueli, Senior Research Fellow at Bristol University and her colleagues at the Bristol Heart Institute.

Growth factors are naturally occurring proteins that stimulate normal body processes of cell growth, division and differentiation. Some act on many different cell types within the body, whereas others are specific for a particular type of cell. NGF normally controls nerve cell survival and regeneration and was for a long time of interest only to neuroscientists.

Dr Emanueli’s group at the Bristol Heart Institute, based in the Bristol Royal Infirmary, first performed in vitro studies showing that NGF was protective in cultures of heart cells. They then expanded these studies to a heart attack model in rats, which closely mimics what happens in a heart attack in humans, by tying off one of the arteries supplying the heart with blood.

In a human, this would happen as a result of a sudden blockage of the artery due to a build-up of cholesterol and fatty material within a blood vessel rupturing and blocking the artery. This causes a massive cell death in the immediate region of the blockage, but also has a later effect in causing cell death in the area around the blockage. This results in the remaining live cells in that area having to adapt by increasing in size, leading to enlargement of the heart and eventual heart failure.

Dr Emanueli found that injecting the gene for NGF into the region around the dead cell area promoted survival of the cells in that region, compared to hearts not treated with NGF, a week following injection of the NGF gene.

Dr Emanueli, commenting on the research, said: “This is the first time that a pro-survival effect in the heart of NGF has been found. Some other growth factors are already used clinically to treat different diseases, and our study shows that NGF may be a novel way of protecting the heart from further damage following a heart attack.“

Source: University of Bristol

Explore further: Brazil finds coffee protein with morphine effect

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

The latest fashion: Graphene edges can be tailor-made

10 hours ago

Theoretical physicists at Rice University are living on the edge as they study the astounding properties of graphene. In a new study, they figure out how researchers can fracture graphene nanoribbons to get ...

Infrared imaging technique operates at high temperatures

10 hours ago

From aerial surveillance to cancer detection, mid-wavelength infrared (MWIR) radiation has a wide range of applications. And as the uses for high-sensitivity, high-resolution imaging continue to expand, MWIR sources are becoming ...

Recommended for you

Brazil finds coffee protein with morphine effect

13 hours ago

Brazilian scientists have discovered a protein in coffee that has effects similar to pain reliever morphine, researchers at the state University of Brasilia (UnB) and state-owned Brazilian Agricultural Research ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.