Heart failure is the leading cause of death in the developed world. One reason is that mammals, unlike some fish and salamanders, can’t regenerate heart tissue. So have we lost the molecular mechanisms required to mend broken hearts altogether, or have we just lost the ability to activate those mechanisms? To find out, it was necessary to first figure out how zebrafish regenerate heart tissue. Pictured is an injured zebrafish heart with healthy cardiac muscle cells (labelled green) and new cardiac muscle cells (red) growing in the damaged section. Now it's been demonstrated that the same molecular components used by zebrafish exist in mammals. When researchers activated these components in living mice by blocking four molecules thought to suppress them, the animals’ hearts showed evidence of dramatic regeneration. The next step is to test whether it’s possible to re-activate long dormant regenerative machinery in larger mammalian hearts.
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