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Scientists discover protein that contributes to the occurrence of heart disease

18 may
Henrique Girão
Henrique Girão
© Carina Monteiro - FMUC

A multidisciplinary research team led by Henrique Girão, of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Coimbra (FMUC), has identified a protein that may jeopardise the communication between heart cells responsible for the heart contraction signal, contributing to the occurrence of heart disease.

In this study in particular, which included the participation of the Coimbra Hospital and University Centre (CHUC) and the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Porto (FMUP), it was discovered that «the EHD1 protein is crucial to regulate the distribution and location of a channel - called gap junction - which is essential for the rapid propagation of the electrical signal (“contraction signal”) through the heart muscle, and which is at the base of the synchronised heart beat ”, highlights Henrique Girão.

In order to better understand the relevance of this research, with its results already published in the renowned scientific journal Circulation Research, the FMUC researcher explains that “In a healthy heart, to ensure an effective conduction of the“ contraction signal ”, these channels [gap junctions] are located in certain areas of the surface of the heart muscle cells, called intercalated discs. For this reason, many heart diseases are associated with an abnormal distribution of gap junctions in the heart cells, with their exit from the intercalated discs, which has a negative impact on the propagation efficiency of the electric wave and, consequently, on the contraction force".

In these cases, he clarifies, “the heartbeat is less vigorous, making less blood to be ejected (pumped) in each contraction. In this study we see how - in sick hearts -the gap junctions are redistributed in cardiac cells. Our results show that EHD1 participates in the process of removing gap junctions from intercalated discs, leading, then to their accumulation in other areas of the cell, where the role of these channels in the rapid propagation of the electrical signal is compromised”.

The results of this study, which was financed by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) and lasted for four years, clarify the mechanisms through which this redistribution of gap junctions occurs in the sick heart, enabling “the identification of new therapeutic targets that may allow in the future the development of more effective approaches to fight cardiovascular diseases, particularly innovative strategies that prevent the EHD1 protein from participating in the removal of gap junctions of the interim discs, thus guaranteeing an efficient heart beat ”, concludes Henrique Girão.

The scientific paper is available at:

Original news article in Portuguese: Cristina Pinto

English version: Diana Taborda