Enzyme discovery could lead to new heart treatments

24 November 2014        

A man clutching his chest in pain as if he is having a heart attack. A woman stands by him, concerned, with her arms on his shoulders.

Researchers we funded at the University of Dundee have discovered how an enzyme is involved in damaging heart muscle after a heart attack. The findings are the first step towards developing a new treatment to prevent that damage.

The team studied heart cells grown in a dish to learn how exactly an enzyme called DHHC5 is involved in a healthy heartbeat. They also looked at how the enzyme can act differently and cause damage during a heart attack.

Researchers were already familiar with DHHC5 because it is essential for a number of processes in the body. It is involved in ensuring we retain short term memories in the brain, for example.

The team was led by Dr Will Fuller and colleagues in the Medical Research Institute at the University of Dundee but the work also involved researchers at the Universities of Edinburgh and Leeds and King’s College London. Collaborations between top scientists at different universities are often vital to making discoveries like this.

A prime suspect

DHHC5 was already suspected of being involved in heart muscle injury during a heart attack but researchers were unsure how it was involved. The cells, taken from rats, allowed the team to study the enzyme in fine detail and see how it works, including specific parts of it.

Dr Fuller explains the significance of knowing the specifics when it comes to designing drugs that target the DHHC5 enzyme:

This means we might be able to interfere with the ‘bad’ things this enzyme does, like damaging heart muscle during a heart attack, without affecting the ‘good’ things such as establishing memories in the brain.”

Preventing heart failure

Heart attacks cause heart muscle damage which cannot be repaired. That damage can affect the heart's ability to pump properly. This can lead to heart failure where a person's heart is so weak it can be severely life-limiting. Treatments to repair that damage or prevent it entirely are vital.

These results are an important first step towards the goal of developing new treatments.

Professor Jeremy Pearson
Associate Medical Director

Our Associate Medical Director, Professor Jeremy Pearson, said: 

The research, by showing the precise way in which the DHHC5 enzyme works, offers the potential to design urgently needed new drugs that may block its damaging effect on heart cells after a heart attack that can lead to debilitating heart failure.  

These results are an important first step towards the goal of developing new treatments to prevent damage after a heart attack, but it will require considerably more research to understand whether their promise can be converted into clinical benefit.

These findings were published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Help us fund more lifesaving research

Your donations have helped us fund this research but more studies are needed before findings like this can help the thousands of people who have a heart attack each year in the UK.