How repairing a broken volume switch could help people with heart failure

20 February 2018        

Category: Research

Scientists at the University of Oxford are to investigate how fixing a ‘broken volume control’ could help people with heart failure. 

Paterson 640

An image of nerve and heart cells communicating. Heart cells are shown in red and nerve cells are shown in green, while other cells are shown in blue.

Professor David Paterson has been awarded £618,000 by the British Heart Foundation to study how to repair a broken link to nerve cells that exacerbates damage caused by cardiovascular disease. 

Professor David Paterson, head of the physiology, anatomy and genetics department, said: “When the heart muscle is injured by a heart attack or high blood pressure it can lead to heart failure, where it lacks the power to pump blood around the body efficiently. 

“This is associated with an increase in the release of a chemical called noradrenaline from nerves, which makes the heart speed up when stressed.  

“In healthy hearts, a special messenger in these nerves can tell them not to release too much noradrenaline, a bit like turning down a volume switch. 

“In diseased hearts this messenger no longer works so the volume is constantly high. This puts the heart under extra strain as it is continually working harder than it needs too. 

Failing hearts

“We have found a problem in the nerve cells of failing hearts. We have discovered that a defect in an enzyme called PDE2A, which means it can’t help manufacture the special chemical that dampens the release of noradrenaline. 

“In this study we will try to target the broken enzyme in the nerve cells in the hearts of rats. We want to restore the normal signalling pathway that turns down the volume switch to prevent too much noradrenaline being released.  

“If we can show that this can be done, PDE2A could become a new target for the development of urgently needed medicines for heart failure.”

Defining role

Dr Abby Woodfin, Senior Research Advisor at the BHF, said: “Understanding how the heart’s nervous system communicates in cardiovascular disease is fundamental in finding new ways of treating heart failure. 

“This project will attempt to define a role for a number of key proteins that are believed to contribute to this process. 

“Research like this is only possible thanks to the continued support and donations from the public. It is the foundation for lifesaving medical breakthroughs of the future.”