OCT 07, 2018 7:11 AM PDT

Towards a Deeper Understanding of Heart Development

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

If we learn how the heart is built, we may find a way to mend a broken one. In new work reported in Cell Stem Cell, scientists revealed more about heart development by studying gene activity at the single-cell level in tens of thousands of heart cells. This study, performed by investigators at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience of The University of Queensland and the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, may help create therapeutics to apply when heart cells die. The heart can’t fix itself when it’s damaged, which is a major reason why heart disease is a leading cause of death.

Lab-grown human heart cell beat spontaneously like they do in the body. Credit: Nathan Palpant/University of Queensland

"The big challenge, as we see it, is to uncover new approaches and new insights into ways to help the heart repair itself," said the co-leader of the study, Dr. Nathan Palpant of the Institute for Molecular Bioscience, The University of Queensland. "We think the answers to heart repair almost certainly lie in understanding heart development. If we can get to grips with the complex choreography of how the heart builds itself in the first place, we're well placed to find new approaches to helping it rebuild after damage."

Stem cells are uniquely able to become any type of cell in the body, and there are now simple techniques for creating what are called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) from adult cells. Scientists made heart cells, cardiomyocytes, using iPSCs. They applied a recently developed technique, single-cell RNA sequencing, to assess how genes were being expressed in those iPSCs as they grew into cardiomyocytes

Single-cell RNA sequencing provides a snapshot of gene expression in one cell; the active genes are transcribed into RNA, which is then made into protein. The technique is described in the video below. In this work, the team measured the activity of 17,000 genes in 40,000 individual cells.

With all that data, the team was able to reveal patterns of gene activity as cardiac cells develop, enhancing our understanding of how the organ is generated. "The development of the heart is like an intricate dance," said research co-leader Associate Professor Joseph Powell of Garvan, who is Head of the Garvan-Weizmann Centre for Cellular Genomics.

"Each cell goes through its own series of complex, nuanced changes. They are all different, and changes in one cell affect the activity of other cells. By tracking those changes across the different stages of development, we can learn a huge amount about how different subtypes of heart cells are controlled, and how they work together to build the heart."

The researchers found that a gene called HOPX has a significant role in hypertrophy, in which the heart enlarges. HOPX acts like a switch that can change developing heart cells from immature cells that keep dividing, into mature cells that cease division and instead get bigger. The researchers now know more about the conditions that take heart cells to the mature state, which will help scientists create them in the lab. 

The research can also provide insight into inherited conditions in which the heart doesn’t develop correctly - congenital defects. 

"We can start to look deeper and more carefully at how the heart develops," said Palpant. "The information we've gained from this work has positioned us to take on new and bigger questions in cardiovascular disease."

''We are now building on the knowledge gained from this work to investigate at what stages during heart development, and in what cell subtypes, the genetic risks of cardiovascular disease become most dangerous,” added Powell.

Image credit: Pxhere

 

Sources: AAAS/Eurekalert! Via Garvan Institute for Medical Research, Cell Stem Cell

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
JUN 04, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Even When They're Outside the Brain, Infections Worsen Alzheimer's
JUN 04, 2021
Even When They're Outside the Brain, Infections Worsen Alzheimer's
It's thought that inflammation is closely connected to cognitive decline, and neuroinflammation plays a role role in the ...
JUN 06, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Caught in the Act of RNA Transcription
JUN 06, 2021
Caught in the Act of RNA Transcription
Researchers have now been able to capture an enzyme called RNA polymerase on video as it copies a DNA sequence into an R ...
JUN 10, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Does Lithium Prevent Colon Cancer?
JUN 10, 2021
Does Lithium Prevent Colon Cancer?
Researchers found that a drug used in the treatment of mental illness can promote the fitness of healthy gut stem cells, ...
JUN 15, 2021
Immunology
Secrets of Immune Cell Movement Revealed
JUN 15, 2021
Secrets of Immune Cell Movement Revealed
Circulating immune cells are constantly on the lookout for the presence of any pathogenic intruders in the body. Once a ...
JUL 05, 2021
Neuroscience
Immature Astrocytes Promote High Levels of Neuroplasticity
JUL 05, 2021
Immature Astrocytes Promote High Levels of Neuroplasticity
Researchers from France have found that astrocytes do more than support neurons in the central nervous system. They foun ...
JUL 21, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Human Contact Increases Antibiotic Resistance Carried by Galapagos Tortoises
JUL 21, 2021
Human Contact Increases Antibiotic Resistance Carried by Galapagos Tortoises
Even Giant Galapagos Tortoises, (seen here migrating in a photo by Juan Manuel García) are not safe from the world's ant ...
Loading Comments...