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The Birth Of New Cardiac Cells

Recent research has shown that there are new cells that develop in the heart, but how these are born and how frequently they are generated remains unclear. In new research from Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), researchers use a novel method to identify these new heart cells and describe their origins.

This research was published in Nature on December 5, 2012.

A sophisticated imaging system () demonstrates cell division in the adult mammalian heart.

“The question about how often cardiac cells are born has been extremely difficult to answer because there was a need for new techniques to help us understand this process. We are especially excited about our findings because of the novel way in which were able to show new heart cells, using Multi-isotope Imaging Mass Spectrometry (MIMS). Our collaborator, , MD, had developed this technology, and as a team we harnessed this for the cardiac regeneration question.” said , MD, a physician and researcher in the Cardiovascular Division at BWH and senior author of the paper. “These data present one piece of the puzzle when it comes to the discussion around the generation of new cardiac cells.”

The team of BWH researchers marked existing cardiac cells genetically to cause them to express a green fluorescent protein. Then they used Multi-isotope Imaging Mass Spectrometry (MIMS) to examine the development of new , called cardiomyocytes, in a pre clinical model over a period of months. Researchers were surprised to find that new primarily arose from existing , rather than stem cells. Even in the setting of a heart attack, when stem cells are thought to be activated, most new heart cells were born from pre-existing heart cells.

“Our data show that adult cardiomyocytes are primarily responsible for the generation of new cardiomyocytes and that as we age, we lose some capacity to form new heart cells,” said . “This means that we are losing our potential to rebuild the heart in the latter half of life, just when most heart disease hits us. If we can unravel why this occurs, we may be able to unleash some heart regeneration potential.”


This research was funded through grants from the National Institutes of Health (F32 HL108570, K08 DK090147, EB001974, AG034641, AG032977, AG040019), The American Heart Association (AHA FTF), Future Leaders in Cardiovascular Medicine, Watkins Cardiovascular Leadership Award and the Ellison Medical Foundation (AG-SS-2215-08).

Brigham and Women’s Hospital