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Factor may trigger heart cell division


NEW YORK (Reuters Health)--Researchers have identified a factor that appears to trigger heart cells to divide, a discovery that may lead to new treatments for heart muscle defects or damage, such as those caused by birth defects or heart attacks, according to a report presented Sunday at the Pediatric Academic Societies' annual meeting in San Francisco.

The molecule is a transcription factor, which triggers changes in DNA. The investigators isolated the gene for the transcription factor hCdc5, which "pushes cells into the final phase of cell division," said Dr. Harold S. Bernstein of University of California at San Francisco (UCSF).

Normally, heart cells divide only until shortly after birth and once heart muscle damage occurs - or if an infant is born with a heart defect - it cannot be repaired by the body.

Bernstein and colleagues have been able to induce partial cell division of heart muscle cells in laboratory experiments using hCdc5.

Bernstein told Reuters Health in an interview that "what's interesting is that others have gotten cells to start dividing, but they've gotten stuck at exactly the point where our transcription factor works."

A combination of all the transcription factors and processes discovered over the past year or so may result in the ability to stimulate complete division of heart muscle cells, Bernstein said. If this proves true, the implications for repair of heart damage are enormous, according to the California researcher.

"The reason we are so interested in the cell cycle is that we need better treatments for children whose heart muscle is damaged due to heart abnormalities - the most common form of birth defect," said Bernstein in a statement issued by UCSF.