Exercise both reduces the risk of a heart attack and protects the heart from injury if a heart attack does occur. For years, doctors have been trying to dissect how this second benefit of exercise works, with the aim of finding ways to protect the heart after a heart attack.
Researchers at Emory University School of Medicine have identified the ability of the heart to produce and store nitric oxide as an important way exercise protects the heart from injury.
Nitric oxide, a short-lived gas generated within the body, turns on chemical pathways that relax blood vessels to increase blood flow and activate survival pathways. Both the chemical nitrite and nitrosothiols, where nitric oxide is attached to proteins via sulfur, appear to act as convertible reservoirs for nitric oxide in situations where the body needs it, such as a lack of blood flow or oxygen.
The Emory team's results, published online in the journal Circulation Research, strengthen the case for nitrite and nitrosothiols as possible protectants from the damage of a heart attack.
The first author is John Calvert, PhD, assistant professor of surgery at Emory University School of Medicine. The senior author is David Lefer, PhD, professor of surgery at Emory University School of Medicine and director of the Cardiothoracic Research Laboratory at Emory University Hospital Midtown. Collaborators included scientists at University of Colorado, Boulder, and Johns Hopkins University.
"Our study provides new evidence that nitric oxide generated during physical exercise is actually stored in the bloodstream and heart in the form of nitrite and nitrosothiols. These more stable nitric oxide intermediates appear to be critical for the cardioprotection against a subsequent heart attack," Lefer says.
Timing is key the benefits of exercise don't last
In experiments with mice, the researchers showed that four weeks of being able to run on a wheel protected
|Contact: Jennifer Johnson|