“For me the definition of great science is something that you discover that opens up even more questions, and this, I think, is the definition of that,” mentioned Smith, who can be affiliated with the University’s Center for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine. “It’s a discovery that now we have 100 questions we didn’t even know existed, so we’re following up on them to explore this path that has never been studied before.”
And whereas there may be not a definitive connection between the invention and congenital coronary heart defects, these cardiac nexus glia cells are positioned within the outflow tract of the guts, the identical place the place many congenital coronary heart defects are discovered. The outflow tract is a construction that varieties throughout improvement and contributes to a pathway connecting the ventricles to the arteries leaving the guts. The analysis crew found the cells first in zebrafish hearts, then confirmed their existence in each mouse and human hearts.
Astrocytes have been beforehand thought to reside solely within the central nervous system the mind and the spinal twine. Researchers within the Smith lab had questioned why organs which can be equipped with nerves by the peripheral nervous system, which embrace all of the remaining nerves within the physique, didn’t seem to have astrocyte-like glial cells. They play an essential function in constructing and sustaining neural circuits within the mind. Why would they not additionally exist elsewhere?
Nina Kikel-Coury, first creator of the paper and a latest graduate of Smith’s lab, mentioned she looked for astrocyte-like glial cells within the coronary heart due to the hole in data, and since glial cells have been present in a number of organs, together with the pancreas, spleen, lungs and intestines. However, their operate will not be at all times clear.
“I thought that if we could find a new cellular piece to the cardiovascular puzzle, it could be foundational for future work,” she mentioned.
Kikel-Coury was significantly all in favour of how these cells factored into a bunch of medical situations referred to as dysautonomia, which end result from faults within the autonomic nervous system. She has one of many situations, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), which causes lightheadedness, fainting and a speedy improve in coronary heart fee.
While POTS might doubtlessly be linked to the brand new cell found within the elementary analysis outlined within the examine, it’s too quickly to inform, Smith mentioned.
“We don’t completely know the function of these cells, but the concept that if you get rid of them, heart rates increase, could link it to certain disease cases,” Smith mentioned. “I think these glial cells could play a pretty important role in regulating the heart.
“This is one other instance of how learning fundamental neurobiology can result in the understanding of many alternative problems,” Smith said. “I’m excited in regards to the future.”
In addition to Smith and Kikel-Coury, different authors on the examine embrace Notre Dame researchers Kevin Vaughan, affiliate professor within the Department of Biological Sciences; Pinar Zorlutuna, the Sheehan Family Collegiate Professor of Engineering; Jacob P. Brandt; Isabel A. Correia; Michael R. O’Dea; Dana F. DeSantis; Gulberk Ozcebe; and Felicity Sterling.
The analysis was funded by the University of Notre Dame, the Elizabeth and Michael Gallagher Family, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.