Misunderstood 'Rambo' protein not so violent after all

6 July 2015        

Picture of the Rambo character played by Sylvester Stallone. Image credited to Yoni S. Hamenahem.

New research we funded has identified a protein which could protect against heart failure, pointing the way to possible new treatments.

The protein, named after one of movie history’s biggest killers, seems to actually be a good guy according to research from King’s College London which suggests that a protein dubbed ‘Bcl-Rambo’ can protect against heart failure.

The Bcl-Rambo protein was named by a Japanese scientist because it was thought to be involved in activating cell death − ‘Rambo’ also means violence in Japanese. However, it seems that the Rambo movie character’s protein counterpart has actually been misjudged. Researchers we funded with your support have shown for the first time that the Bcl-Rambo protein may not be so violent after all and is actually involved in an essential and protective process which is implicated in heart failure.

New heart failure treatments? 

Controlled regulation of the Rambo protein may help to limit the development of heart failure. The research opens doors for scientists to develop new therapies to improve the outlook for people suffering with heart failure, a condition for which there is currently no cure.

There are around 175,000 heart attacks in the UK each year – one every three minutes. For those who survive a heart attack there is a risk that the heart will have been damaged and this can lead to heart failure. Over half a million people in the UK are living with heart failure. It can have a huge impact on a person’s life, leaving them tired, short of breath and unable to do everyday activities like walking up stairs or washing by themselves.

Studying the cell's powerhouses

Research led by BHF Professor Kinya Otsu and colleagues based in Japan, on cells derived from people and mice, discovered the Rambo protein is involved in safely clearing damaged mitochondria from cells. Mitochondria are small structures within cells which are often referred to as their powerhouses. They produce vital energy needed for cells to work properly. Damaged mitochondria are removed by a process called mitophagy – killer vesicles are activated to engulf and degrade the damaged mitochondria. The process of mitophagy is essential, and mistakes in this process have been linked to the development of heart failure. 

We now know for the first time that the Bcl-Rambo protein, also known as Bcl2-L-13, is involved in the process of mitophagy in mammalian cells. If researchers can find ways of regulating this protein, we may be able to control the process of mitophagy and develop new treatments to limit the development of heart failure.

Elegant discovery science

Professor Jeremy Pearson, our Associate Medical Director, said:

“More than half a million people in the UK are living with the devastating effects of heart failure – a disabling condition that in its severest form has a life expectancy worse than many cancers. There is currently no cure and limited options to reduce the development of the condition.

“This elegant piece of discovery science research has shed light on the misunderstood Rambo protein which may in fact protect heart cells from death in heart failure, revealing a possible target for therapy. Further research is now needed to develop methods to control the activity of the protein in heart cells.”

The research was published in the journal Nature Communications. The image above is credited to Yoni S. Hamenahem.

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