JUN 06, 2017 4:01 PM PDT

Agrin Protein Reverses Damage Done by Heart Attack

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker

Treating the heart after the damage has already been done is difficult, but it’s the only option when a sudden heart attack occurs. It would be monumentally less difficult if the heart tissue could repair itself like the cells of other organisms, but the ability of human heart tissue to renew and regenerate disappears after early development. But what if scientists could bring that ability back to help people recover from heart injury?

Fibrotic staining (blue) of control (PBS) and Agrin-treated hearts 35 days following heart attack shows a reduction in fibrosis following treatment. Credit: Weizmann Institute of Science 

Researchers from the Weizmann Institute of Science have found a protein that might help the cause: Agrin. Their studies have only been done so far in mouse models of disease, but larger animal studies and human cell studies are on the horizon.

The experiments with extracellular matrix

Leader of the study Professor Eldad Tzahor, his graduate student, and the rest of the research team began by investigating the extracellular matrix (ECM), where messages from cell interactions are kept. They isolated ECM from newborn and week-old mice and combined the samples with cardiac cells in culture. They younger ECM but not the older ECM induce proliferation of heart muscle cells.

Next, the screened a series of proteins looking for those that were directly involved in the proliferation response; a protein called Agrin was one of many they found. Agrin has been shown in the past to regulate signals at the neuromuscular junction. Even more, Agrin levels decrease during the first week of life for mice, so its potential connection to heart cell proliferation was not farfetched. Sure enough, Agrin proteins added to cell cultures induced proliferation.

Does Agrin have a therapeutic effect?

With Agrin linked to the proliferation of heart cells, researchers next tested the protein in mouse models of heart injury to see if it could reverse any damage. Miraculously, one injection healed and restored function to almost 100 percent in the mouse hearts. However, it took several more weeks to see a full recovery. Ultimately, researchers saw scar tissue reduced, living heart tissue instead in its place. 

"Clearly this molecule sets a chain of events in motion," Tzahor said. "We discovered that it attaches to a previously unstudied receptor on the heart muscle cells, and this binding takes the cells back to a slightly less mature state - closer to that of the embryo - and releases signals that may, among other things, initiate cell division." 

What’s next for Agrin

Tzahor believes that Agrin achieves its effect by altering various inflammatory and immune responses to heart attack and by suppressing fibrosis. In the future, he has more plans to study Agrin, including studies in isolated human heart cells, studies in large animal models, and asking this question: Why does it take so long to reach a full recovery when the initial dose proves to be incredibly beneficial?

 

Understanding what happens after a heart attack

Damaged heart muscle cells replaced with scar tissue following a heart attack, and scar tissue is nearly useless in contributing to contracting and pumping blood. This puts even more stress on the muscle, making future attacks as well as heart failure more likely.

The present study was published in the journal Nature.

Source: Weizmann Institute of Science

About the Author
  • I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.
You May Also Like
SEP 20, 2021
Health & Medicine
Nanomedicine and the Future of Stroke Management
SEP 20, 2021
Nanomedicine and the Future of Stroke Management
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, someone dies from a stroke every four minutes in the U ...
SEP 22, 2021
Technology
Routine Blood Test May Show Link Between Schizophrenia and Cardiovascular Disease
SEP 22, 2021
Routine Blood Test May Show Link Between Schizophrenia and Cardiovascular Disease
It is well documented that people with schizophrenia are at higher risk of developing metabolic disorders, a collection ...
SEP 26, 2021
Coronavirus
LIBRA-Seq ID's a Potent Antibody to Fight COVID-19
SEP 26, 2021
LIBRA-Seq ID's a Potent Antibody to Fight COVID-19
Humans can produce millions or even billions of antibodies, so only so many can be captured and screened. But those anti ...
SEP 30, 2021
Microbiology
Malaria Parasite Seems to be Evolving to Evade Diagnostic Tests
SEP 30, 2021
Malaria Parasite Seems to be Evolving to Evade Diagnostic Tests
When health officials are trying to control a disease outbreak, diagnostic tests can be a crucial tool that provides inf ...
OCT 05, 2021
Technology
Portable Sensor Could Help Diagnosis Heart Attacks Quickly
OCT 05, 2021
Portable Sensor Could Help Diagnosis Heart Attacks Quickly
According to the Centers for Disease Control, someone in the U.S. has a heart attack about every 40 seconds. Despite bei ...
OCT 11, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
A Genetic Risk Factor is Shared by Alzheimer's and Severe COVID-19
OCT 11, 2021
A Genetic Risk Factor is Shared by Alzheimer's and Severe COVID-19
While amyloid plaques are a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease, the neurological disorder has also been linked to inflammat ...
Loading Comments...