Scientists at the Children’s Hospital Boston have found previously unrecognized group of stem cells that give rise to cardiomyocytes, or heart muscle cells. It brings the hope of being able to regenerate injured heart tissue. The study was published in the journal Nature on June 22.

The Children’s team found that a specific stem cell or progenitor, marked by expression of a gene called Nkx2-5, forms many components of the heart: heart muscle cells, vascular smooth muscle cells, and the endothelial cells lining blood vessels in the heart’s left-sided chambers. Also the team shows that heart muscle cells can also be derived from a third type of cardiac progenitor, located within the epicardium and identifiable through its expression of a gene called Wt1.

William Pu, MD, a pediatric cardiologist at Children’s Hospital who was the study’s senior investigator said, “there’s a lot of interest in finding places to obtain new cardiomyocytes, because in heart failure, you lose cardiomyocytes, so the only way to reverse heart failure is to make more of these cells“.

The study is the first of its kind that shows that epicardial cells might turn into cardiomyocytes. Bin Zhou, MD, a research fellow in Pu’s laboratory and the study’s first author said, “I couldn’t believe it at first, myself“. He moreover says, “If you’re going to regenerate a tissue, you need to regenerate the whole tissue, not just the cardiomyocytes,” said Pu. “This progenitor population contains all the potential to regenerate multiple tissue types within the heart.”

The study has been corroborated by the University of California. A team of researchers there also found that cardiomyocytes can be derived from the epicardium. This study will be published in the same issue of Nature. The study was funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health, USA, and by a charitable donation from E.P. Marram and K.K. Carpenter.

Source: Science Daily