‘Cuddle hormone helps the heart to heal’
According to a new study, oxytocin – also known as the love hormone or the hug hormone – can help future ticklers after a heart attack.
Oxytocin has long been known to play an important role in enhancing social interactions. For example, the cuddle hormone makes us feel happy when we sit around the table with friends, or have sex. But it doesn’t stop there. Oxytocin, for example, also ensures the start of labor, and plays a role in testosterone production.
A versatile hormone. And researchers at Michigan State University recently added another perk to their roster of oxytocin. One, according to scientists, may be helpful when you’re recovering from a heart attack.
decreased heart function
Bee’s team focused on heart muscle cells. These are muscle cells that make the heart contract to pump blood. During a heart attack, quite a few of them are lost due to lack of oxygen, which leads to reduced heart function. Since we are talking about highly specialized cells, regeneration of cardiomyocytes is not so easy.
Previous studies have shown that a group of cells in the epicardium, the membrane that surrounds heart muscle tissue, can offer a solution. These cells are able to transform into so-called Epicardium-derived progenitor cells (EpiPCs). These in turn can grow into different cells found in the heart.
Unfortunately for us, the production of EpiPCs in humans is too slow, and the production isn’t enough to help the heart recover.
However, in zebrafish, stem cells play an important role in heart healing. While these animals do not suffer from heart attacks, their ticks can cause damage in other ways. For example, a predator can take a bite from an organ if the zebrafish does not escape quickly enough. A quarter of an animal’s heart can grow again, in part with the help of EpiPCs.
What is the “magic power” that makes these stem cells so successful in repairing the zebrafish heart? Right, oxytocin. The researchers found that the hugging hormone stimulated EpiPCs to move from the outer layer of the heart to the middle layer. Here the stem cells were transformed into cardiomyocytes and other important heart cells.
In addition, oxytocin was found to have a similar effect on human tissue in a laboratory dish. When the researchers administered the cuddle hormone, the human stem cells (for the hardest-to-die among us) turned about twice as likely to develop EpiPCs than non-oxytocin.
“An interesting and innovative study,” says Arti Ramkeswensing, MD, a cardiologist at Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC). This role of oxytocin in the activation of cells in the epicardium was not previously known. The zebra model provides insight into processes that may be important in heart regeneration.”
Ramkisoensing has a comment on tests on human tissue. Researchers are using human-induced stem cells. They are usually genetically modified to give them the characteristics of embryonic stem cells, enabling them to differentiate into multiple types of cells, including heart muscle cells.”
Ramkisoensing continues: “Scientists allow these cells to mature, but it is not clear to what extent these cells are ultimately identical to mature epicardial cells. So the question is to what extent this data can be translated into the adult human heart and how large the contribution of oxytocin to its regeneration is.” .