Study on oxytocin after heart attack: "cuddle hormone" heals damaged heart

After a heart attack, the heart is difficult to heal.

Study on oxytocin after heart attack: "cuddle hormone" heals damaged heart

After a heart attack, the heart is difficult to heal. Heart failure often remains. US researchers have now found a way to stimulate the regeneration process. A hormone that is actually responsible for couple bonds and orgasms is supposed to help.

Oxytocin strengthens social bonds, promotes romantic feelings and is responsible for the intense experience of orgasms. Therefore, the hormone is also called cuddle or love hormone. But now US researchers have discovered another surprising function of oxytocin. The hormone is said to be able to help repair a damaged heart - for example as a result of a heart attack.

The impetus for the study, which was published in the journal "Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology", came from the observation that, unlike humans, zebrafish have no problem with heart regeneration: In contrast to other muscles, the human heart muscle has only limited self-healing powers . If it is damaged by a heart attack or an injury, it is difficult to heal. Heart failure often remains. One of the reasons for this is that there are hardly any stem cells in the heart from which new heart muscle cells can form.

Zebrafish, on the other hand, are known for their impressive ability to regenerate. If your heart is injured, the heart muscle and its blood vessels quickly grow back. The scientists found the reason for this in the brain of the fish: as a reaction to the heart injury, large amounts of the "cuddling hormone" oxytocin were released there, as the study states. The oxytocin then traveled with the blood to the heart, where it triggered a molecular cascade that initiated the conversion of the epicardial cells, i.e. the cells of the heart wall, into stem cells.

In a second step, the research team investigated whether this mechanism could also work in humans. Although a heart attack or heart injury in humans does not trigger such an oxytocin surge, it is conceivable - according to the researchers' considerations - that the molecular reactions to oxytocin are preserved. To test this, they conducted an in vitro study using human heart tissue. They exposed cultivated heart wall cells to oxytocin and, for comparison, 14 other neurotransmitters.

The result: the human heart cells also reacted to the cuddle hormone. While the other messengers had little effect, oxytocin stimulated the formation of stem cells that can develop into other cell types. More detailed analyzes showed that these cells have their own oxytocin receptors for this, to which the cuddle hormone docks and thus initiates the conversion.

"We have shown that oxytocin can activate cardiac repair mechanisms in zebrafish and in human cell cultures," writes study author Aitor Aguirre. "Apparently, this response to oxytocin stimulation is also preserved to some extent in human heart cells." This could create new ways of specifically promoting heart regeneration after a heart attack or injury in humans - for example by administering additional oxytocin.

"Oxytocin has been used in medicine for some time," writes Aguirre. "Using it now in patients who have had a heart attack is therefore by no means utopian. Even if this only led to a partial regeneration of the heart, the benefits for the patients would be enormous." However, further human studies are needed.

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