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CU-Boulder python study may have implications for human heart health
Date:10/27/2011

the hearts of Burmese pythons can grow in mass by 40 percent within 24 to 72 hours after a large meal, and that metabolism immediately after swallowing prey can shoot up by forty-fold. As big around as telephone poles, adult Burmese pythons can swallow prey as large as deer, have been known to reach a length of 27 feet and are able to fast for up to a year with few ill effects.

There are good and bad types of heart growth, said Leinwand, who is an expert in genetic heart diseases including hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the leading cause of sudden death in young athletes. While cardiac diseases can cause human heart muscle to thicken and decrease the size of heart chambers and heart function because the organ is working harder to pump blood, heart enlargement from exercise is beneficial.

"Well-conditioned athletes like Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps and cyclist Lance Armstrong have huge hearts," said Leinwand, a professor in the molecular, cellular and developmental biology department and chief scientific officer of CU's Biofrontiers Institute. "But there are many people who are unable to exercise because of existing heart disease, so it would be nice to develop some kind of a treatment to promote the beneficial growth of heart cells."

Riquelme said once the CU team confirmed that something in the blood plasma of pythons was inducing positive cardiac growth, they began looking for the right "signal" by analyzing proteins, lipids, nucleic acids and peptides present in the fed plasma. The team used a technique known as gas chromatography to analyze both fasted and fed python plasma blood, eventually identifying a highly complex composition of circulating fatty acids with distinct patterns of abundance over the course of the digestive process.

In the mouse experiments led by Harrison, the animals were hooked up to "mini-pumps" that delivered low doses of the fatty acid mixture over a period of a week. Not only did the mouse he
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Contact: Leslie Leinwand
Leslie.Leinwand@colorado.edu
303-492-7606
University of Colorado at Boulder
Source:Eurekalert  

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