Jun 15, 2017 09:14 AM EDT
Genetics does not hold all the answers in solving all the diseases in the world. More often, the answer lies in the most unlikely things, like the tarantula. Harvard researchers found out recently that tarantulas might hold the key to a healthy heart.
Christine Seidman, a genetics professor at Harvard Medical School, studies hypertrophic cardiomyopathy or HCM, a disease where the heart is unable to relax properly. In the process, it exerts more energy than usual and can result in heart failure and other adverse problems.
Seidman discovered that some genetic mutations cause HCM. Two of these genetic mutations affect myosin, a protein that is very important in muscle contraction. She found out that two particular mutations switch myosin with one amino acid after the other causing the heart muscle not to relax properly.
These cardiovascular muscles are uncannily similar to the muscles the tarantula use to control each limb. Because of this, these arachnids are good subjects in studying how these mutations affect myosin.
Seidman works alongside Raúl Padrón, a structural biologist at the Venezuelan Institute for Scientific Research, whose main work focuses on the effects of muscle proteins on tarantulas.
Together, they investigated the mutations associated with HCM change the structural interactions of myosin that happen during cardiac relaxation. What they found out was very surprising - the same amino acids responsible for cardiac relaxation are also the same ones altered by the HCM mutations.
The pair is planning to bring their research to the next step by using cryo-electron microscopy to look closely at myosin interactions at near-atomic resolutions.
Seidman also wants to find out if the adverse outcomes and symptoms caused by HCM can be reduced using small molecules in the heart.
Both Seidman and Padrón published their respective studies in the online journal eLife.
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