October 31, 2011

Pythons Promote Healthy Heart Growth

(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- If you have a fear of snakes, hopefully this will change your mind!  According to a recent study, fatty acids circulating through feeding python bloodstreams promote healthy heart growth in the constricting snake and the results may have implications for treating human heart disease.

University of Colorado Boulder Professor Leslie Leinwand and her research team found the amount of triglycerides, the main constituent of natural fats and oils, in the blood of Burmese pythons increased just one day after eating.  Despite the massive amount of fatty acids in the python bloodstream there was no evidence of fat deposition in the heart, and the researchers also saw an increase in the activity of a key enzyme known to protect the heart from damage.

CU-Boulder researchers injected mice with either fed python plasma or a reconstituted fatty acid mixture developed to mimic such plasma after first testing it on the pythons.  Both showed increased heart growth and indicators of cardiac health. Furthermore, there were no alterations in the liver or skeletal muscles in the mice.

"We found that a combination of fatty acids can induce beneficial heart growth in living organisms," CU-Boulder postdoctoral researcher Cecilia Riquelme, first author on the Science paper, was quoted as saying.  "Now we are trying to understand the molecular mechanisms behind the process in hopes that the results might lead to new therapies to improve heart disease conditions in humans."

However, according to Leinwand, there are good and bad types of heart growth, such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the leading cause of sudden death in young athletes.  While cardiac diseases can cause human heart muscle to thicken and decrease the size of the heart chambers and heart function because the organ is working harder to pump blood, heart enlargement from exercise is beneficial.

"Well-conditioned athletes like Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps and cyclist Lance Armstrong have huge hearts," Leinwand, a professor in the molecular, cellular and developmental biology department and chief scientific officer of CU's Biofrontiers Institute was quoted as saying, "But there are many people who are unable to exercise because of existing heart disease, so it would be nice to develop some kind of a treatment to promote the beneficial growth of heart cells."

SOURCE: Science