Some scar-forming cells in the heart, known as fibroblasts, have the ability to become endothelial cells- the cells that form blood vessels, UCLA researchers have found. Increasing the number of blood vessels in the heart boosts its ability to heal after injury, and this discovery could lead the way towards a new treatment strategy for people who have suffered heart attack. The study done on mice found that a drug could increase this phenomenon and the repair process after a heart attack.
Reversing or preventing scar tissue from forming has been one of the major challenges of cardiovascular medicine, said Dr. Arjun Deb, the study’s senior author and an associate professor of medicine in the division of cardiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and the department of molecular, cell and developmental biology in the UCLA College.
“It is well known that increasing the number of blood vessels in the injured heart following a heart attack improves its ability to heal,” said Deb, who is also a member of UCLA’s Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research. “And we know that scar tissue in the heart is associated with a poorer prognosis. There is compelling clinical evidence to show that if you have more scar tissue in your heart, you are worse off.
“Our findings suggest the possibility of coaxing scar-forming cells in the heart to change their identity into blood vessel-forming cells, which could potentially be a useful approach for better heart repair.”
Through experiments on mice in which scar-forming cells in the heart were genetically labelled, the researchers discovered that many of the fibroblasts in the heart's injured region changed into endothelial cells.
This process contributed directly to blood vessel formation - a phenomenon they called mesenchymal-endothelial transition or MEndoT.
The researchers also identified a molecular mechanism that regulated MEndoT and found that administering a small molecule to augment MEndoT led to less scarring and allowed the heart to heal more completely.
The study appeared in the journal Nature.
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