Health

Helpful Mouse Fetuses Naturally Send Stem Cells to Mom to Fix Her Damaged Heart

80beatsBy Valerie RossNov 21, 2011 7:23 PM

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Cardiomyocytes damaged by a heart attack

What's the News: Scientists are devoting countless research hours to treatments based on embryonic stem cells

, differentiating these blank-slate cells from embryos into brain cells

, light-sensing retinal cells, blood cells, and more to replace damaged or destroyed tissues in the body. Now, a new study in mice shows such that nature has arrived at just such a solution

, too: When a pregnant mouse has a heart attack, her fetus donates some of its stem cells to help rebuild the damaged heart tissue. How the Heck:

  • The researchers started with two lines of mice: normal mice and mice genetically engineered to express green fluorescent protein (GFP), which glows a distinctive green when exposed to blue light, in their cells. They mated normal female mice with GFP-producing male mice. This meant that half the resulting fetuses had the GFP gene, too, making their cells glow, too. Twelve days later---a little less than two-thirds of the way through a normal mouse pregnancy---the researchers gave half the pregnant mice heart attacks.

  • When the scientists examined the female mice's heart tissue two weeks after the heart attacks, they found lots of glowing green tissue---cells that came from the fetus---in the mom's heart. Mice who had heart attacks had eight times as many cells from the fetus in their hearts as mice who hadn't had a heart attack did, meaning the high volume of fetal cells was a response to the heart attack.

  • What's more, the embryo's stem cells had differentiated into various types of heart tissue, including cardiomyocytes, the rhythmically contracting muscle cells that produce a heartbeat.

What's the Context:

The Future Holds: Since fetal stem cells can be readily isolated from the placenta, the researchers point out, they could provide a plentiful source of stem cells for treating heart damage

. Reference: Rina J. Kara et al. "Fetal Cells Traffic to Injured Maternal Myocardium and Undergo Cardiac Differentiation."Circulation Research, published online November 14, 2011. DOI: 10.1161/​CIRCRESAHA.111.249037

Image courtesy of KGH / Wikimedia Commons

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