How heart malfunctions function

By Justin Williams ’13

Calcineurin Enzyme

Heart disease is among the deadliest diseases in the world. Last year it was responsible for ¬†631,636 deaths in the United States¬†alone. For many years it has been known that the enzyme calcineurin plays a major role in heart function, but what exactly it did was not known until now. Just this week (February 19th), researchers at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute published the results of their study, which shows that calcineurin plays a major role in regulating many vital functions of the heart.

In this study, the researchers observed the hearts of mice, manipulating the level of calcineurin in their systems. Their data shows that “calcineurin in hearts of mice is directly linked to proper cardiac muscle contraction, rhythm and maintenance of heart activity.” When mice were almost completely stripped of calcineurin they displayed major heart problems which included “heart arrhythmia, failure and death” said Dr. Marjorie Maillet, one of the leading investigators in the study.

Prior to this, calcium has also been identified as necessary for a healthy heart. In this study, in addition to the aforementioned results, researchers found that the mice who were bred with a calcineurin deficiency displayed a severe reduction in the expression of these calcium related genes. Using this newfound link they have proposed a “feed-forward” mechanism, hypothesizing that when the calcineurin is activated by calcium, the effects of calcineurin on the heart will be increased.

While there are some drawbacks to this study, mainly that it is the first of it’s kind and was performed on mice, the results are still promising. Dr. Maillet certainly thinks so, saying that it “offers important insights for future studies that could lead to new approaches in diagnosis and treatment of heart patients.” It is still a little early to call, but things are starting to look up in the world of heart disease.

The original article can be found here.