During a heart attack, the organ struggles to pump blood and maintain its own oxygen supply so that it can continue to function. A paper in Nature uncovers an emergency strategy that the heart muscle uses to protect itself under such circumstances - enlisting molecules that help to keep it supplied with vital energy.
A catalytic protein known as AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) steps in when the heart is under stress to boost its uptake of glucose to prevent damage and cell death. But what triggers this rescue? Lawrence Young and colleagues reveal that a key participant is a molecule called macrophage migration inhibitory factor (MIF), which is normally involved in perpetrating unpleasant inflammatory diseases such as asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. Its production is stepped up as the oxygen-starved heart starts to flag, forcing AMPK into overdrive to come to its aid.
The authors suggest that in some people MIF may be less effective and that genetic analysis might one day allow us to predict risk in patients with coronary artery disease. It may also become possible to boost MIF activity to speed delivery of the rescue package.
Lawrence Young (Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA)
(C) Nature press release.
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