Scientists from the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease have discovered a combination of proteins that triggers the production of new cardiac myocytes. The finding, reported today (26 April 2009) in Nature, might be an important first step towards making new, therapeutically useful heart cells via cellular reprogramming.
Jun Takeuchi and Benoit Bruneau identified three proteins that, together, direct the differentiation of mouse embryonic cells into beating heart cells. The proteins are a mix of transcription factors, which bind to DNA and influence gene expression, and a heart-specific chromatin-remodelling protein.
Heart disease is the leading cause of mortality and morbidity in the western world. The heart has little regenerative capacity after damage, leading to much interest in understanding the factors required to produce new cardiac myocytes. Although the authors used mesoderm cells as their starting point, in theory the paper provides a 'recipe' that may allow reprogramming other cell types into heart muscle cells, a major goal of cell therapy.
The paper is titled 'Directed transdifferentiation of mouse mesoderm to heart tissue by defined factors.'