University of Arizona researchers Churko and colleagues describe new findings of gene expression patterns in cardiac stem cells, which could be used to create heart regeneration therapies.
Heart disease affects millions of people each year and has the potential to impair heart function by damaging heart muscle. Although many preventative therapies are available, once damage has occurred to the cells of the heart, there are not many treatment options available. The heart has a limited capacity to heal itself, but one option that could result from new research into stem cell therapies is regenerative therapy, leading to cardiac regeneration. However, the processes involved in stem cell differentiation into various heart muscle tissues are not well understood.
In a new study published in Nature Communications, University of Arizona researchers Churko and colleagues investigate the gene expression patterns that are responsible for the differentiation of heart cells. This will clarify how heart cells develop and respond to drugs or other factors.
The researchers found that heart muscle cells vary in gene expression as they mature, between days 14 and 45. Younger cells have gene expression profiles more like those of cells of the heart atrium, whereas more mature cells have gene expression profiles more like those of the heart ventricle. Churko and colleagues also identified one gene, NR2F2, that, when overexpressed blunted expression of the specific genes that are expressed within muscle cells and heart cells, and led to increased expression of the genes associated with pluripotent stem cells and neuronal cells.
Churko and colleagues’ findings will help other researchers working on heart stem cells and regenerative therapy. By understanding the genetic expression patterns that lead to or characterize the differentiation of stem cells into heart muscle cells, researchers will be able to guide pluripotent stem cells into becoming cardiac cells. Ultimately, this will lead to better treatment for patients with heart disease and a damaged heart.
Written by C.I. Villamil
Reference: Churko et al. 2018. Defining human cardiac transcription factor hierarchies using integrated single-cell heterogeneity analysis. Nature communications 9:4906.