If a person suffers a heart attack and survives, chances are their heart muscle will never be quite the same. Indeed, the associated scarring often results in permanent damage that can lead to heart failure and eventual death. Scientists are therefore searching for possible ways to promote regeneration of damaged hearts, and it’s possible that newborn mice may hold the answer. For a few weeks after birth, these animals can almost entirely regenerate their heart tissue after an injury. And new research suggests a key process that may be critical for this regenerative ability: regrowth of nerves. Blocking nerve growth specifically in experimental animals completely prevented the regrowth of damaged heart tissue. In control animals, the nerves regrew into their normal branching patterns—like those pictured. Thus if researchers are to have any hope of regenerating adult hearts after injury, their best bet might be to boost accompanying nerve growth.
Written by Ruth Williams
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