Heart study: Mini-proteins not yet known are the heart fuel

Heart study: Mini-proteins not yet known are the heart fuel

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Solved puzzles for the energy production of the heart

Our hearts still hold numerous secrets. How does the organ manage to supply every single cell in our body with energy? A German research team recently provided the answer to this question. They discovered a previously unknown group of mini-proteins that the heart uses to generate energy. The revolutionary discovery could lead to numerous new cardiac therapies.

The human heart is part of numerous medical researches. Diseases in what is probably the most important organ in our body are responsible for more than a third of all deaths in Germany. However, the exact mode of operation is still not exactly deciphered. Researchers at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine made a terrific discovery. They deciphered a kind of heart motor. Numerous small mini-proteins that were previously completely unknown are responsible for the energy production of the heart. The study results were recently presented in the renowned journal "Cell".

New discovery could revolutionize heart disease therapy

Today, surprisingly little is known about why the heart sometimes does not do what it is supposed to do. 56 researchers now shed more light on the dark. They examined the cellular protein factories in the heart cells. In doing so, they discovered a group of previously unknown proteins that play a key role in the energy production of the heart. The team sees the new microproteins as the key to curing heart diseases based on disturbed energy metabolism.

The power plants of the heart

The research work focused on the protein cells of the heart cells. The so-called ribosomes assemble proteins from individual amino acids. The blueprints for these proteins are stored in the DNA. The ribosomes receive precise building instructions on how the proteins are composed via messenger substances called messenger RNA (mRNA). "With the help of a still very young technique, ribosome profiling or Ribo-Seq for short, we have now for the first time determined not only in isolated cells, but in intact human heart tissue, to which positions of the mRNA the ribosomes go to," explains the first author Dr. Sebastiaan van Heesch from the MDC working group in a press release on the study results.

Heart cell fuel discovered

"Using special algorithms, we were then able to calculate which proteins are formed in the heart during translation," reports van Heesch. In this way, the researchers discovered numerous unknown mini-proteins. Using special microscopic techniques, the team was then able to observe that more than half of the newly discovered microproteins migrate to the cell power plants (mitochondria) after they have been manufactured. "This means that they are apparently needed to generate energy for the heart," concludes study director Professor Norbert Hübner.

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"Since many heart diseases are due to errors in energy metabolism, we were of course particularly interested in this result," says Hübner. Together with his colleagues, he now wants to decode the role of the new microproteins more precisely. The mini proteins seem to exist only in the human heart. The research team did not find what they were looking for when examining mouse hearts. "These proteins seem to be evolutionarily young substances," sums up van Heesch. These microproteins showed once again how special the human heart is. The research group is now hoping that these findings can be used for diagnosis and therapy of heart conditions based on a disturbed energy metabolism of the heart. (vb)

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