Two hearts, said Keats, can beat as one, but a study led by Weizmann Institute scientists in collaboration with researchers from the University of Pennsylvania shows that sometimes a single heart muscle cell can beat as more than two dozen.
The findings, reported recently in Nature Communications, provide an extremely detailed glimpse into the mechanisms behind normal and irregular heart muscle cell contractions. The study may help define the limitations of existing therapies for abnormal heartbeat and, in the future, suggest ways of designing new ones.
Weizmann Institute of Science
A chicken heart-muscle cell under a fluorescent microscope; the filaments consist of repeated subunits (bright dotted lines). The schematic representation shows three neighboring filaments; the black lines are the boundaries of their subunits, such that the lower filament is aligned with the middle one, while the upper one is not.
Each heart muscle cell consists of numerous parallel filaments comprising repeated subunits. When the heart beats, each individual filament contracts to produce muscle cell contractions.
Optimally, all the filaments should contract in a synchronized manner, thus ensuring the greatest amplitude of contraction for each muscle cell and ultimately, the strongest and most effective beating of the entire heart. However, a new theoretical model proposed and analyzed by Prof. Samuel Safran and postdoctoral fellow Dr. Kinjal Dasbiswas of the Weizmann Institute’s Department of Materials and Interfaces suggests that the filaments contract together only when their subunits, and subunit boundaries, are aligned with one another.
Since such alignment usually only happens among a limited number of neighboring filaments, these contract together as a bundle -- however, each such bundle contracts out of phase with others. Therefore, a heart cell does not necessarily beat as a single uniform entity; rather, the number of different beating entities in the cell depends on the bundle number, which may reach more than two dozen.
The theory, which uses the methods of statistical physics, further predicted that the alignment of the filaments in the heart muscle cell depends on the cell’s physical environment, and more specifically on the elasticity of the supporting structure (called the extracellular matrix). The alignment is best when this structure is not too soft and not too rigid. The prediction took into consideration various forces operating on the microscale, particularly mechanical forces that are exerted on each filament subunit by neighboring filaments via the extracellular matrix.
By assuming that only structurally aligned filaments beat together, the Weizmann theorists were able to quantitatively explain experimental findings by their collaborators from the University of Pennsylvania (aka Penn), Prof. Dennis Discher and Dr. Stephanie Majkut. In the experiments, the Penn scientists had placed embryonic heart cells from chicks on support surfaces of varying stiffness, and found that two strikingly different properties – the structural alignment of the filaments and the beating strength of the cell – depended on the rigidity of the supporting surface.
By providing a theoretical basis for these experiments, the Weizmann model may help explain how filaments become aligned in heart muscle cells during embryonic development, and how their arrangement correlates with the muscle function in the adult heart.
This correlation suggests that the current means of treating irregular heartbeat may be limited to a certain extent by the structural order of heart muscle filaments – however, the new understanding may one day help design improved treatments for heart disease. For example, in the future, if new heart cells are grown to replace diseased ones, their growth environment may be manipulated so that their structure is well ordered and, to paraphrase Keats, all their filaments beat as one.
Prof. Samuel Safran’s research is supported by the Gerhardt M.J. Schmidt Minerva Center on Supramolecular Architectures, which he heads; the US-Israel Binational Science Foundation; the Israel Science Foundation; Antonio and Noga Villalon, Winnetka, IL; the Clore Center for Biological Physics; the Kimmelman Center for Structural Biology; and the Kimmel Stem Cell Research Institute. Prof. Safran is the incumbent of the Fern and Manfred Steinfeld Professorial Chair.
Dr. Kinjal Dasbiswas’s research is supported by a fellowship from the Council of Higher Education.
Director, Science Content
Jennifer Manning | newswise
Laser activated gold pyramids could deliver drugs, DNA into cells without harm
24.03.2017 | Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
What does congenital Zika syndrome look like?
24.03.2017 | University of California - San Diego
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
24.03.2017 | Materials Sciences
24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy