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Body's own healing after heart attacks: Researchers discover anti-inflammatory protein GDF-15
The healing processes after a heart attack always follow the same pattern, with a certain protein making a significant contribution to recovery. The protein prevents excessive inflammatory reactions, so that stable scar formation can be guaranteed.
Researchers at the Max Planck Institute in Münster and the Hannover Medical School (MHH) have discovered a protein that has a regulating effect on inflammatory processes. The protein GDF-15 ensures that after a heart attack the inflammation that occurs during the natural healing process does not escalate and possibly causes damage. The scientists have published their research results in the journal "Nature Medicine".
Protein crucial for healing processes after heart attacks In a heart attack, muscle tissue in the heart dies, which the body must replace with a stable scar in order to continue to ensure the functioning of the vital organ. The researchers at the Max Planck Institute and the MHH have examined in more detail how the body's own healing processes look like after a heart attack. They found that a certain protein plays an essential role in this. Since blood has to be pumped continuously during the healing process, the scars in the heart muscle tissue are constantly under stress. Here, the inflammatory reactions occurring during healing could weaken the tissue and possibly cause life-threatening tears in the heart muscle, the researchers explained. Therefore, the body produces the protein GDF-15 immediately after a heart attack to prevent excessive inflammatory reactions. The participating biomedical specialists and cardiologists observed that the heart muscle cells "increase the formation of GDF-15 during the healing process: after just twelve hours, the concentration of this factor increased twentyfold - mainly in the infarct area," said the spokesman for the Max Planck Institute, Dirk Hans.
Protein prevents excessive inflammatory reactions The observed inflammatory reaction is a natural element of the healing process after a heart attack, the researchers report. However, inflammatory processes that overshoot the scars must be prevented urgently, the spokesman for the Max Planck Institute explained. Here, the researchers have now discovered “a completely new mechanism by which the body prevents excessive inflammatory reactions,” emphasized Dirk Hans. The inflammatory reaction is essentially triggered by white blood cells that migrate into the inflammation focus and dock here "on the wall of the blood vessels", explained Dietmar Vestweber from the Max Planck Institute. So that this docking is possible, so-called integrin molecules must be activated on the surface of the white blood cells, according to the expert from the Max Planck Institute. "As a result, these molecules change their shape, they straighten up and can be used to dock onto the wall of the blood vessels," explained Vestweber.
GDF-15 prevents white blood cells from docking The researchers at the MHH and the Max Planck Institute have now discovered for the first time in their investigations the mechanism that inhibits the uprighting of the integrins and thus their activation. Vestweber explained: "When GDF-15 binds to the white blood cells, the integrins remain inactive and the white blood cells cannot dock to the blood vessel wall in the area of inflammation." In this way, "GDF-15 ensures that the inflammatory process is regulated and not overshoots and causes damage, ”the scientists explained. When investigating mice, the researchers also found that without GDF-15 there was a significantly increased risk of serious health problems after a heart attack. The mice, which were unable to produce GDF-15, died shortly after a heart attack because "they had an excessive inflammatory reaction," Vestweber explained. In the mice without GDF-15, the body "degraded the dead tissue too quickly so that the heart muscle tore," explained Kai Wollert of the MHH.
Discovered protein can also be used for other diseases? The experts at the Max Planck Institute and the MHH also found that the GDF-15 protein not only has an anti-inflammatory effect after a heart attack, but that the same process can also be found "in tissues outside the heart". "That seems to be a general principle of anti-inflammatory," emphasized Dietmar Vestweber. The protein could also be of interest in combating other diseases that are associated with excessive inflammatory reactions, Vestweber explained. Especially in the case of inflammation inside the body, such as inflammation of the stomach or kidney pelvic inflammation, new drugs based on the discovered mechanism of the protein GDF-15 could significantly simplify treatment in the future. (fp)
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