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A change of heart keeps bears healthy while hibernating
Date:2/7/2011

elf out."

Using echocardiogram data from the captive bears at Washington State and tissue samples from wild bears, the researchers found that the atrium protects itself by weakening its beat.

Muscle contractions in the heart are controlled by a protein called myosin heavy chain. The protein comes in two varieties, alpha and beta. The alpha version produces a quicker but slightly weaker contraction compared to the beta. "We found that the muscle in the left atrium produces more alpha protein during hibernation, which results in a slightly weaker beat," Rourke said. "The lower force keeps the atrium from being damaged as it pushes against the stiffer ventricle."

When the bears emerge from hibernation, the protein ratio switches back and the atrial contraction returns to its original strength.

The researchers believe this is the first study to show a shift in myosin ratio in bears, and they hope the information might someday have an application for humans.

"Bears aren't a perfect model for humans, but the way in which a bear's heart can change could be helpful in understanding human disease," Rourke said. "It's a really interesting physiology."


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Contact: Kevin Stacey
kstacey@press.uchicago.edu
773-834-0386
University of Chicago Press Journals
Source:Eurekalert

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