Study Finds New Insights Into the Development of the Heart

The heart is absolutely vital to your health and well-being, and scientists continue to make discoveries about how the heart develops and functions. A recent study conducted at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in Berlin provides new insight into how the heart develops, which could change how we treat some diseases of the heart.
lab team

Photo courtesy of Edmonton Economic


The job of the heart is to keep blood flowing throughout the body, and the two sides of the heart accomplish this in different ways. The right side circulates blood to the lungs, where it picks up oxygen, and then back to the left side of the heart. The left side then pumps the oxygen rich blood to the rest of the body. Consequently, the left side is bigger than the right because it needs to pump the blood to a much bigger area. It has long been assumed that the two sides of the heart develop the same way despite their slightly different functions, but this new study suggests that they actually develop differently.

Using zebra fish, whose hearts are similar to ours, researchers observed the migration of the heart cells in the embryos. Since they are completely transparent as embryos, the researchers were able to clearly view the cells’ migration into a fully functional heart.

It was traditionally assumed that a a signaling molecule called Bmp triggered cell migration toward what becomes the left side of the heart, but new evidence suggests that this is not the case. Instead, researchers found that a protein called Nodal is responsible for signaling the rapid migration of cells to the left side of the heart, causing it to form more quickly than the right side and contributing to the left side becoming bigger than the right. Nodal also activates an enzyme called Has2 that restricts the activity of Bmp on the left side, further contributing to the heart’s asymmetry as it develops. Researchers also found that disrupting the activity of these enzymes and proteins resulted in a heart that was perfectly symmetrical or had a right side that was larger than the left, conditions that have also been observed in human hearts.

This discovery offers exciting possibilities for determining how structural and functional abnormalities of the heart could occur, and possibly offer new ways to treat heart conditions in the future. To learn more about conditions currently treated with cardiovascular surgery, contact Cardiovascular Surgery of Southern Nevada at  (702) 737-3808 today.

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