Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


About injured hearts that grow back - Heart regeneration mechanism in zebrafish revealed


Zebrafish have a wonderful characteristic trait: they have extraordinary regenerative powers that go beyond the ability to regrow injured extremities. Even heart injuries heal up completely in this fish species. For cardiologists, who regularly treat heart attack patients, this would be a dream come true. Scientists at Utrecht University and Ulm University now have unravelled a central molecular mechanism that coordinates this healing process.

Zebrafish have a wonderful characteristic trait: they have extraordinary regenerative powers that go beyond the ability to regrow injured extremities. Even heart injuries heal up completely in this fish species. For cardiologists, who regularly treat heart attack patients, this would be a dream come true. Scientists at Utrecht University and Ulm University now have unravelled a central molecular mechanism that coordinates this healing process.

In hearts with inhibited BMP signals the wound is bigger (image in the middle), while hearts where BMP signalling has been amplified show smaller wounds (right).

Chi-Chung Wu

‘The injured tissue regenerates via the proliferation of heart muscle cells located near the wound border,’ Professor Gilbert Weidinger from the Institute for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Ulm University explains. The international research team – a collaboration between Weidinger’s lab and scientists at the Utrecht University Hospital – was able to show that the cell proliferation is regulated by a particular family of proteins: the so-called bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs).

BMPs are signalling proteins that play an important role in cell-to-cell communication. The researchers were able to demonstrate that BMPs are activated particularly along the border between healthy and injured tissue.

The molecular biologists developed a special method for RNA sequencing (tomo seq) which allows them to locate the activity of various genes in the wound area and the adjacent tissue. ‘This generates a genome-wide atlas of gene expression and activity patterns, showing significant regional differences. This sheds light on which genes and cell signals are active in a regenerating heart both in the healthy and the injured tissue, or rather exactly along the border of the wound,’ says Chi-Chung Wu.

The PhD student from Hong Kong conducts research at Ulm University. Together with his colleague from Utrecht, Fabian Kruse, he is first author of the study, which has been published in the renowned journal Developmental Cell (2016/36: 36--49).

Using this sequencing technique, the scientists found that BMP signalling is activated by heart muscle cells in the wound border zone where healthy and injured tissue come together. With the help of transgenic zebrafish in which the BMP signalling pathway was either inhibited or amplified, the researchers were able to selectively influence the regeneration process. In the genetically modified animals where the BMP signalling pathway had been blocked, heart muscle cell proliferation was reduced considerably. In those animals with overly active BMP the regeneration was actually enhanced.

‘Surprisingly, this signalling pathway plays no role in cell division during embryonic heart development, only in heart regeneration due to injury,’ the scientists say in astonishment. This means that the tissue formation in the fish heart during embryonic development and during regeneration is regulated by two different processes.

There is another finding that astounds the researchers: ‘The BMP signalling is also active in the injured hearts of mice, but there the heart cells react in a dramatically different way: they die. Here the BMP doesn’t promote healing but causes the damaged cells to commit suicide,’ says Professor Jeroen Bakkers from Hubrecht Institute at the Utrecht University Hospital. He is, like Prof. Weidinger, co-corresponding author of this study.

The scientists now want to work out why heart cells in zebrafish and in mammals like mice react so differently, and which processes are ultimately responsible.

If mammals – which humans are classified as taxonomically – were able to replace injured heart cells in the same way as zebrafish there would be new hope for heart attack patients. The reason why a myocardial infarction, as this life-threatening event is also called, is so dangerous for humans is because the dying heart muscle cells cannot be replaced. This leads to extensive scarring of the heart muscle and causes the organ to lose strength. The medical relevance of this project is therefore tremendous. ‘Maybe one day it will be possible to considerably improve the regenerative capacity of human heart tissue with medication or therapies that have been developed on the basis of such fundamental research findings,’ the researchers hope.

Further information:
Prof. Dr. Gilbert Weidinger; Email:;

Weitere Informationen:

Andrea Weber-Tuckermann | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Bare bones: Making bones transparent
27.04.2017 | California Institute of Technology

nachricht Link Discovered between Immune System, Brain Structure and Memory
26.04.2017 | Universität Basel

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

Latest News

Bare bones: Making bones transparent

27.04.2017 | Life Sciences

Study offers new theoretical approach to describing non-equilibrium phase transitions

27.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

From volcano's slope, NASA instrument looks sky high and to the future

27.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>