To Spark The Growth Of Arteries, We Might Need To Slow Down The Process That Makes Them


NYSCF – Robertson Investigator and Stanford University Assistant Professor of Biology Kristy Red-Horse, PhD, studies how to fix broken hearts. She is interested in examining how the heart develops, and her findings inform how we can correct for cardiac malfunction by potentially re-growing damaged tissue.

In a new paper published in Nature, Dr. Red-Horse’s team explored the process of artery development and found that growing an artery from blood vessels actually requires that blood vessels slow their growth first.

Dr. Red-Horse’s team was interested in how arteries develop from a group of cells called a plexus. The cells in the plexus turn into blood vessels, which then branch out like a tree to form arteries, capillaries, and veins.

What was not well understood, however, was why some blood vessels form arteries while others form capillaries and veins. Scientists know that genetically, the signals that tell a blood vessel cell to become a vein cell also push it away from becoming an artery cell (and vice versa). Because of this, scientists formed the theory that developing cells in the plexus must exist in a type of “neither vein nor capillary” state before becoming one or the other.

What the team found instead was that rather than not having characteristics of either, the cells had characteristics of both. They were “part vein, part capillary.” When enough cells started to favor one fate over another, they grouped together to form their chosen structure.

If some blood vessel cells will turn into arteries and some will turn into veins, encouraging more blood vessel cells to grow should result in more arteries, along with more veins. However, this is not the case. The team found that the molecule that tells a cell to become a vein also tells it to divide and grow faster (this is the same molecule that tells a cell “don’t become an artery”). So contrary to what seems logical, to grow an artery, we have to stop cells from growing and dividing too fast, as this is a characteristic of developing veins.

The team will next explore whether genetically slowing down cell proliferation will help re-grow damaged arteries and will look for proteins that may help form new artery cells.

For more information on this study, check out this article from Stanford Medicine.

Diseases & Conditions:

Cardiac Research and Repair

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