Can this hormone mend a broken heart? 

3 minute read

Research adds another string to oxytocin’s bow.

What’s not to love about oxytocin? 

As far as hormones go, this adorable neurotransmitter is responsible for kicking along much of the feelgood stuff that makes humans happy, such as social bonding, having sex, or simply enjoying a great piece of art. 

It also plays a key role in some pretty important physical functions, like regulating ejaculation and testosterone production for blokes and controlling lactation and uterine contractions in women.  

But can the so-called “love hormone” do more than just encourage folks to become smitten? Can it also help mend a heart broken by a heart attack?  

University of Michigan State University researchers suspect it may, and they think this thanks to studies of another clever critter, the zebrafish. 

According to their research, published this week in Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology, oxytocin could one day be used to promote the regeneration of a human heart.   

How so?  

Scientists have been studying zebrafish for decades for a very good reason: these fish have an extraordinary capacity to regenerate their organs when damaged, including really important ones such their brains, other vital internal organs and, importantly, their hearts.  

When a human has a heart attack, cells called cardiomyocytes die off in great numbers, and because they are highly specialised cells, they can’t replenish themselves – meaning the heart stays deeply damaged. 

But in a zebrafish, the researchers found that hormone oxytocin worked to stimulate stem cells derived from the heart’s outer layer (epicardium), to migrate into its middle layer (myocardium) and then develop into cardiomyocytes. 

What’s more, the scientists also found the same process could also be replicated in vitro with human cell cultures.  

Meaning that, possibly, a long way down the track, oxytocin could be used to help repair a human heart after a cardiac event. 

“Oxytocin is widely used in the clinic for other reasons, so repurposing for patients after heart damage is not a long stretch of the imagination. Even if heart regeneration is only partial, the benefits for patients could be enormous,” one of the study authors, assistant professor Aitor Aguirre, told media.  

In the meantime, we’ll help our heart along by eating plenty of those sea creatures rich in unsaturated fats … except for the zebrafish.      

If you see something that makes your heart skip a beat, race it on over to 

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