New York: Here comes a path-breaking discovery for patients suffering from erratic heartbeats tied to heart attacks, strokes and other serious heart ailments.
Researchers at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles have found that six proteins - five more than previously thought - regulate the rapid flow of electrical communication signals, coordinating heart cells to produce a stable heartbeat.
The smallest of these proteins directs the largest in performing its role of coordinating billions of heart cells during each heartbeat.
Together, the proteins synchronise the beating heart, the researchers claimed.
"The findings advance our understanding of cell-to-cell communication at the root of healthy heart function. When there is less cell communication, which occurs in failing hearts, chances are greater of disturbances in heart rhythm that can result in disability or death,” said Robin Shaw, senior author of the study.
Till date, scientists had recognised just one protein involved in cell-to-cell communication that occurs through conduits known as 'gap junctions', said the study published in the journal Cell Reports.
“The finding adds startling diversity to a key biological process whereby, heart cells communicate with each other electrically,” said Eduardo Marbán, director of the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute.
“The implications are major for arrhythmias and heart failure,” he added.
The researchers have also determined that a class of drugs known as 'mTOR inhibitors' - those already used for immunosuppression in organ transplants - can be used to prevent erratic and sometimes fatal heart rhythms.
A properly beating heart is necessary to pump blood to the brain, lungs and other organs.
Cell-to-cell communication occurs in all other organs. The same proteins that help heart cells communicate also play a role in brain function, bone development and insulin production in the pancreas, the study said.