PINK1 Protein May Hold the Key to Defeating Heart Failure

June 13, 2011

Researchers at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre have discovered PINK1, a gene switch that possesses the ability to trigger many events leading to heart failure.

A quiet epidemic in the United States, heart failure continues to be the largest cause of hospitalization among adults in North America. Over 50,000 people are treated for advanced heart failure annually where transplantation is the only long-term treatment for patients. However, a recent breakthrough could lead to new findings in the treatment of heart failure.

Researchers at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre have discovered the protein PINK1, a gene switch in the heart that possesses the ability to trigger a wave of events leading to heart failure. The PINK1 gene has been mainly studied as a link to Parkinson’s disease and certain forms of cancer but thanks to recent tests with heart conditions, this protein has opened up new doors for drug development.

The findings from the Cardiac Centre illustrate that the absence of PINK1 causes heart cells to produce less energy. As a result, heart cells die off while the remaining cells must then work harder to keep the heart going. The high level of stress causes these muscle cells to thicken, a condition known as hypertrophy.

In the lab, researchers genetically disabled the protein in mice and examined their heart cells. What they found was that while the hearts seemed to develop normally, they would begin to fail after two months. This data supports the notion that even though PINK1 does not play a large part in the development of the heart, the gene is essential in protecting the heart from failing. More research is needed to find medical treatments for heart failure, but this finding has introduced a new way to view the involvement of certain proteins in the development of this disease.

Although this is a relatively new discovery, Dr. Phyllis Billia, principal author, clinician‑scientist and heart failure specialist at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre, remains confident. “If we've identified the inciting event that causes the chain of events leading to failure, research and drug development strategies should be focused in this new area of science.”

Around the Web

Newly Discovered Protein May Be a Cause of Heart Failure [Science Daily]

PTEN-inducible kinase 1 (PINK1)/Park6 is indispensable for normal heart function [Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences]