SPARCing up the heart in flies…

The heart of a fly. Two cells wide and capable of beatign 5 times per second. Genes controlling the hearts contractile function are conserved in humans.

The heart of a fly. Two cells wide and capable of beating five times per second, the fly heart is helping us unlock the secrets governing our own heart’s function.

Research funded by the British Heart Foundation and conducted both here and at the Sanford-Burnham-Prebys Medical Discover Institute near San Diego in California, is to be published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Genetics.

The work identified a genetic pathway linking cardiac function with expression of a protein called SPARC (Secreted Protein Acidic and Rich in Cysteine). In humans, increases in SPARC accompany cardiac ageing, inflammatory disease, obesity and cancer. As a consequence SPARC is a potentially very important therapeutic target in a wide range of important clinical settings. Our work, which utilised the fly Drosophila, demonstrated that heart dysfunction (cardiomyopathy) could be cured by reducing SPARC gene expression. Establishing this link allows us to ascertain the mechanism by which SPARC contributes to cardiac function in humans. Whilst the human heart is significantly more complex than that of a fly, their early development and function are controlled by similar genetic pathways; evolution may have added to the human heart but it has not changed its fundamentals. Hence, we’re able to learn a lot about ourselves by studying this simple, yet very sophisticated, little insect.