A group of researchers from the University of Bern has discovered particular cells responsible for the regeneration of the heart muscle of zebra fish. These animals, in fact, can regenerate their hearts in an extremely flexible way following an injury, unlike most mammals, including humans, for which the cardiac muscles heal in a limited manner following a trauma.
In humans, for example, when there is damage to the heart, millions of muscle cells called cardiomyocytes die and are replaced by a scar. In some fish, especially in zebrafish, regeneration takes place in a way that greatly affects scientists as it may perhaps be possible to establish the same process in future humans too.
Among other things, zebrafish are animals already known in medical research and used in a myriad of studies and experiments because they share many of their genes with humans. Following cardiac trauma, zombie fish cardiomyocytes do not die but divide and generate a new heart muscle. However, researchers from the Swiss institute have noticed that not all cardiomyocytes of this fish contribute to muscle regeneration; a part of them seems to have an enhanced regeneration capacity.
These special cells differ in terms of gene expression from other cardiomyocytes. This indicates that several different cells are part of another subset. By eliminating this subset of cells, the regeneration of the heart itself was strongly impaired in the fish and this indicated their primary role in the process of regeneration of the heart.
Now the researchers want to understand if the discovery concerning the special role of these “supercells” in terms of regeneration of the heart tissue could be useful for those mammals in which the heart does not regenerate itself very efficiently, as in humans.