Magazine article Science News

Muscle Cells in Damaged Hearts May Divide

Magazine article Science News

Muscle Cells in Damaged Hearts May Divide

Article excerpt

Crooners who lament that broken hearts never mend may need to find another tune. New evidence suggests that, contrary to scientific consensus, heart muscle cells do divide and the number of cells can increase.

The vast majority of heart muscle cells, or myocytes, had been thought to stop dividing by the time a person reaches the age of 9. These cells then pump blood for the rest of a healthy person's life. In people stricken by a heart attack, the cells die and are replaced by scar tissue.

The first report of a human myocyte caught in the act of dividing appears in the July 21 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The myocyte came from a left ventricle, the most powerful chamber of the heart and the one most afflicted by heart attacks. Piero Anversa of New York Medical College in Valhalla, N.Y., and his colleagues used a powerful optical microscope to look for dividing cells in tissue damaged by heart attacks. They detected cell nuclei that were splitting.

"When we saw that, we really jumped," Anversa says. Other scientists searching for dividing heart cells had not tried that technique, he adds.

The finding strengthens the possibility that scientists can develop medical treatments to enhance cell division and restore healthy heart muscle, says Anversa. It is too soon, however, to know to what extent such treatments might repair damaged hearts, such as those suffering congenital heart disease (see p. 62).

Anversa and his colleagues at the University of Udine in Italy, studied hearts removed from 27 people who had received transplants. …

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