Did You Know Most Heart Muscles Are Formed In Childhood?

First Posted: Jun 11, 2015 05:20 PM EDT

New findings published in the journal Cell reveal that the majority of the human heart muscles are formed during childhood.

Researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden note how the heart muscle is regenerated throughout a person's life, supporting the idea that it is indeed possible to stimulate the rebuilding of lost tissue over time. Furthermore, the study findings seemed to suggest that the heart grows during childhood as the cells increase in size rather than in number. In other words, heart cells are generated on only a modest scale and even during a long life, only roughly 40 percent of the muscle cells are replaced.

"Our study shows that endothelial cells, mesenchymal cells and heart muscle cells are renewed in the human heart throughout life, albeit at a different rate for different cells," said study leader Jonas Frisén from the Department of Cell and Molecular Biology, in a news release. "Our findings suggest that it can be rational and realistic to develop new therapeutic strategies for strengthening the body's own regenerative capacity to treat heart diseases."

For the study, researchers examined the regeneration of human heart cells using a combination of methods, including measuring the radioactive isotope C-14, exploiting the sharp rise in atmospheric levels of carbon-14 in the 1950s and 60s caused by nuclear testing. Levels then declined, which means that cells that were formed after that period give lower C-14 readings than those formed during it. Thus by measuring the amount of C-14 in a cell's DNA, the researchers were able to calculate its age.

"We examined the heart tissue from 29 deceased individuals of various ages and found that even by one month after birth, the heart contains the same number of cells as it has in adults," added Olaf Bergmann from the Department of Cell and Molecular Biology.

The study was financed with grants from the Swedish Research Council, the Heart-Lung Foundation, the Swedish Cancer Society, Karolinska Institutet, the Tobias Foundation, StratRegen, the Torsten Söderberg Foundation and the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation.

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