The tiny Drosophila fruit fly may pave the way to new methods for studying and finding treatments for heart disease, the leading cause of death in industrialized countries, according to a collaborative study by the Burnham Institute for Medical Research, UC San Diego (UCSD) and the University of Michigan.
The study reports that mutations in a molecular channel found in heart muscle cell membranes caused arrhythmias similar to those that are found in humans, suggesting that understanding how this channel’s activity is controlled in the cell could lead to new heart disease treatments. Led by Burnham’s Professor Rolf Bodmer, Ph.D., and Staff Scientist Karen Ocorr, Ph.D., these new results, to be published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, will be made available by priority publication at the journal’s website during the week of February 26, 2007.
"This study shows that the Drosophila heart can be a model for the human heart," said Burnham researcher Bodmer. "Fly hearts have many ion channels that also are present in human hearts, making it suitable to extend mechanistic insight found in the fly hearts to human heart function."
The researchers focused on a membrane channel in the tiny Drosophila heart called KCNQ. This membrane channel, found in flies and humans, regulates the heart’s ability to return to a relaxed state after beating. This ability is crucial to healthy cardiac functions, and the inability to return to a relaxed state results in arrhythmias, which can lead to more serious heart disease and sudden death. In both flies and humans, cardiac arrhythmia and dysfunctions become more common with age.
The team found that mutations in the fly’s single KCNQ gene led to severe arrhythmias that would be immediately fatal to a human, but not in this insect that does not rely on the heart for oxygen supply. Hearts in young flies with the KCNQ mutation exhibited prolonged heart contractions and irregular beats seen usually in older flies (and older people). To enable their study of the fly heart, the researchers created new methods to dissect the hearts, and quantify heart contractility and other functions by using a movie camera to capture fly’s cardiac activity.
"We started with Nick Reeves and James Posakony at UCSD, who originally made the mutant KCNQ fly for a different purpose. We then studied these mutants with the new heart function assays that Ocorr was developing in my lab. Subsequently, we worked with Martin Fink and Wayne Giles at UCSD to develop a computer program that would allow the automated quantification of heart beat parameters and arrhythmias from the video images," Bodmer said. In addition, collaborations with H.S. Vincent Chen at Burnham and Soichiro Yasuda and Joseph Metzger of the University of Michigan enabled measuring the fly’s electrocardiogram (ECG) and heartbeat force and tension, respectively.
"We now have a lot of methods to precisely assess heart function in the fly, which augments its usefulness as a genetic model for studying cardiac function," said Ocorr, who conducted most of these studies.
The study points to KCNQ as a major factor in heart disease, but Bodmer warns that much more research is needed to use it alone as a drug target. "The fact that heart functions deteriorate in the mutant flies during aging suggests that there are other channels and genes that contribute to cardiac aging," he said. "We need to better understand the regulatory systems that control the level and activity of known cardiac channels and other unknown factors involved in coordinated heart muscle contraction."
In fact, the researchers are now looking at identifying other genes that regulate KCNQ channel function and heart physiology, and—thanks to the short lifespan of Drosophila —can look at the effects of aging, which is much harder to do in mammals with a relatively long lifespan.
"There’s an amazing conservation of genes between flies and humans," Bodmer said. "We can now look at how heart function ages in a realistic timeframe."
In addition to first author Ocorr, and contributions from collaborators Reeves, Fink, Chen, Yasuda, Posakony, Giles and Metzger, Bodmer’s colleagues included Robert Wessells and Takeshi Akasaka at Burnham.
"The collaborative spirit at Burnham", said Bodmer, "greatly facilitated interactions among the researchers that brought this multidisciplinary study to fruition".
Nancy Beddingfield | EurekAlert!
The irresistible fragrance of dying vinegar flies
16.08.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für chemische Ökologie
How protein islands form
15.08.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau
Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.
Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...
For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.
While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...
An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.
The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...
A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...
Researchers from the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, the Italian Space Agency (ASI), and the Instituto Geofisico--Escuela Politecnica Nacional (IGEPN) of Ecuador, showed an increasing volcanic danger on Cotopaxi in Ecuador using a powerful technique known as Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR).
The Andes region in which Cotopaxi volcano is located is known to contain some of the world's most serious volcanic hazard. A mid- to large-size eruption has...
16.08.2017 | Event News
04.08.2017 | Event News
26.07.2017 | Event News
16.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
16.08.2017 | Materials Sciences
16.08.2017 | Interdisciplinary Research