The heart is the vital muscle that pumps life into our body, so understanding if and how it could regenerate after injury would be a major medical breakthrough. One cell type, characterised by an active c-kit gene, is thought to be able to give rise to new muscle cells; in fact injections of 'c-kit cells' are already being used to boost regeneration in patients recovering from a heart attack. As seen in this section from a mouse heart, with its cell nuclei stained blue, c-kit-expressing cells (in green) are dotted around the organ. However, recent research suggests that they actually generate very few cardiac muscle cells during development. Instead, most c-kit-expressing cells become endothelial cells, forming the lining between the muscle and the bloodstream. While 'c-kit cell' injections nevertheless appear to enhance recovery, the search for a means of truly healing the heart is still on.
Written by Emmanuelle Briolat
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