Stress may condition heart to survive heart attack

People who experience brief periods of blocked blood flow may be better conditioned to survive a full-blown heart attack later, according to new research from the University of Cincinnati (UC).

In a five-year laboratory study, UC surgeon-scientist Karyn Butler, MD, found that when the heart experiences short periods of stress, either from reduced blood flow or high blood pressure, it activates a protective molecular pathway-known as JAK-STAT-that protects the heart muscle. The pathway, which is normally dormant in the heart, was originally identified in disease-fighting white blood cells as a mediator of infection and has recently been targeted for its role in heart health.

Butler says when the JAK-STAT pathway is active and functioning, it can help precondition and protect the heart from damage caused when blood flow is restored after a period of decreased flow, as occurs after a heart attack.

“These mini stress tests appear to push the heart muscle into an adaptive state where it gets used to how long-term stress feels,” Butler explains. “This preconditioning helps the heart muscle better tolerate longer episodes of compromised blood flow.”

Her team reports their findings in the January 2008 issue of the American Journal of Physiology: Heart and Circulatory Physiology.

By revealing the underlying molecular mechanisms, Butler says, scientists may be able to develop drugs designed to selectively harness the protective benefits of the JAK-STAT pathway and help patients avoid debilitating heart injuries.

Source: University of Cincinnati, USA



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