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Protein Targeted For Cancer Drug Development Is Essential For Normal Heart Function
Date:7/10/2013

er heart damage. "These findings have broad implications for human health," Opferman said.

MCL1 belongs to a protein family involved in regulating apoptosis. The body uses apoptosis to rid itself of damaged, dangerous or unneeded cells. MCL1 prevents apoptosis by blocking the activity of other members of the same protein family that promote the process.

This research builds on previous work from Opferman's laboratory that identified a second form of MCL1. That form works inside rather than outside the mitochondria and helps to produce the chemical energy that fuels cells. Mitochondria are specialized structures inside cells that serve as their power plants.

The latest results suggest both forms of MCL1 are necessary for normal heart function, said the paper's first author Xi Wang, a University of Tennessee Health Science Center graduate student working in Opferman's laboratory.

When investigators knocked out the mouse version of the human MCL1 gene in the heart and skeletal muscle of both embryonic and adult mice, the animals rapidly developed lethal cardiomyopathy. Without MCL1, researchers found that muscle fiber in heart muscle cells was replaced by fibrous tissue, and the pumping ability of the animals' hearts diminished. Loss of MCL1 was also associated with a rise in apoptosis sufficient to cause fatal heart muscle weakness.

To better understand MCL1's role in normal heart function, researchers blocked apoptosis by deleting genes for the proteins Bak and Bax as well as MCL1. Bak and Bax promote apoptosis. Knocking out all three genes restored normal heart function in the mice. The animals lived longer, but mitochondria in the heart muscle did not look or function normally. These results suggest that normal heart function requires both forms of MCL1. "The question is whether, with time, you would see deleterious effects from the loss of MCL1 separate from apoptosis," Opferman said.


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SOURCE St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
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