Cell biologists have identified a protein that helps to direct the development of heart cells early in embryonic development. Understanding this process could improve our understanding of very early embryonic processes, and could potentially yield new strategies to repair tissue damaged by heart attacks.
Writing in Nature, researchers led by Issei Komuro report that a molecule called insulin-like growth-factor-binding protein 4 (IGFBP-4) enhances the differentiation of primitive cells into specialized heart cells, called cardiomyocytes. By working with human cells in culture, as well as frogs, the researchers also show that defects in this protein hamper heart-cell development.
IGFBP-4 is thus added to a host of other proteins, including a range of cell-signalling enzymes and their receptors, known to contribute to the development of the heart, which is the first organ to form during embryonic development. The research could thus pave the way towards understanding how anomalies in this process give rise to congenital heart defects - the most common birth defects in humans.
Issei Komuro (Chiba University Graduate School of Medicine, Japan)
Abstract available online.
(C) Nature press release.
Message posted by: Trevor M. D'Souza