The hormone responsible for preventing us from constant eating and keeping us at a healthy weight apparently also plays a role in the growth of new blood vessels, a process called angiogenesis.
Angiogenesis is responsible for repairing tissues after an injury, restoring blood flow to broken blood vessels. But angiogenesis can also promote cancer progression by giving tumor cells a blood supply, so understanding the precise details of this process is extremely important for promoting its healthy functions and blocking its destructive functions.
Together with pericytes, the cells that surround blood vessels, the appetite-inhibiting hormone called leptin promotes the building of new blood vessels. In a recent study, scientists from the University of Bristol saw that pericytes produce 40 times as much leptin in response to low oxygen levels, promoting angiogenesis to boost the amount of blood and oxygen reaching tissues and organs, like the heart.
“These results reveal a new signalling mechanism that may have a far-reaching and significant impact on cardiovascular regenerative medicine,” explained project leader Paolo Madeddu. “Increasing leptin in pericytes in a damaged heart might help it to heal faster, whereas blocking the production of leptin in cancerous pericytes might starve the tumour of nutrients and force it to shrink."
The current treatment option for people suffering a heart attack is coronary artery bypass surgery, a serious and invasive procedure that takes blood vessels from somewhere in the body to reconstruct a blood vessel path to the heart so the muscle can receive oxygen. This procedure is commonly used to treat vascular disease, but patients often take a long time to recover after surgery. With the recent discovery of leptin’s role in boosting angiogenesis, scientists wonder if increasing leptin production might also be effective at returning blood flow and oxygen back to the heart after heart attack.
Scientists have more to study before this new approach could be implemented, but Barbara Harpham, Chief Executive of Heart Research UK which funded the study, says “understanding more about the processes involved may help pave the way for the development of new treatments for heart attacks which could replace coronary bypass operations."
The present study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.