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The Mexican tetra fish can repair its heart after damage. The Mommersteeg Group's paper "Heart regeneration in the Mexican cavefish" suggests that a particular gene may hold the key to this inherent ability. If they can lock down exactly how this works, it may be possible to revolutionise how we heal damaged human hearts.

Cavefish
Photo Credit: Colin Beesley

Research into a Mexican cavefish could inspire change in the way human heart failure is treated. This key Mommersteeg Group research has been funded by the British Heart Foundation, and is now published in Cell Reports.

Many members of DPAG will remember Associate Professor Mathilda Mommersteeg giving a talk about her team’s research at the departmental Away Day event on July 3 2018. This publication is an important development with far reaching implications for future heart failure treatments.

Some fish, like the zebrafish, have an amazing ability to repair their hearts after damage. Associate Professor Mommersteeg and her team have now identified a new fish model that can help find out what is so unique in fish that they can repair their hearts.

Astyanax mexicanus is a fish species from Northern Mexico with cave-dwelling and river populations. Millions of years ago, some fish living in rivers, flooded into caves. River levels retreated over time and the fish became trapped in the caves. The fish started to evolve to adapt to cave life, for example, they lost their eyes and pigment.

“We have discovered that, like zebrafish, the river surface fish regenerate their heart, while, cavefish cannot and form a permanent scar, similar to the human injury response after a heart attack. This finding is important as it allows to directly compare a ‘fish-like’ regenerative response with a ‘human-like’ scarring response within the same species. If we can find out what it is that allows fish to regenerate their hearts, we can apply this knowledge to heal the heart of patients after a heart attack.” – Associate Professor Mommersteeg.

Research Assistant, William Stockdale, the first author on the paper, explains how they conducted their research in more detail:

"As part of the paper, we compared the surface fish and cave fish responses after injury, and identified many new genes potentially key to regeneration. We explored the role of one such gene, lrrc10, in zebrafish. Interestingly, deletion of lrrc10 in zebrafish resulted in a cavefish-like response after injury - finding it to be a novel factor required for heart regeneration. Finding these new key genes and exploring their role in heart regeneration, like lrrc10, is important to piecing together the puzzle of natural regeneration."

 

Read the full Cell Reports paper here.

More information, including a handy animation summarising the research, is available on the British Heart Foundation website and The University of Oxford website.