Cincinnati Children's Blog

Cellular Self Defense – Newly Identified Protein Function Protects Cells During Injury

Scientists have discovered a new function for a protein that protects cells during injury and could eventually translate into treatment for conditions ranging from cardiovascular disease to Alzheimer’s.

Researchers reported yesterday in the journal Cell that a protein called thrombospondin activates a protective pathway that prevents heart cell damage in mice undergoing simulated hypertension and heart attack.

In other words, the protein reduced injury and protected the mice from death.

This microscopic image from the study published in Cell shows mouse cardiomyocytes (heart muscle cells) that are color coded with fluorescent proteins to denote the presence of different components important to cell function. The key protein that protected heart cells from injury, Thbs4, can be seen in green. 

“Our results suggest that this protein could be targeted as a way to help people with many different disease states where various organs are under stress,’’ said Jeffery Molkentin, PhD, lead investigator and a researcher at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. “Although more study is needed to determine how our findings might be applied clinically, a possible outcome could include a drug or gene therapy that induces overexpression of the protein in tissues or organs undergoing injury.”

Read more about the findings in the Cincinnati Children’s newsroom

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