A team of researchers from the University of Bern has discovered particular cells responsible for the regeneration of zebrafish heart muscle. These animals, in fact, can regenerate their heart in an extremely flexible way following an injury, unlike most mammals, including humans, for whom the heart muscles heal in a limited way following an injury.

In humans, for example, when there is damage to the heart, millions of muscle cells called cardiomyocytes die and are replaced by a scar. In some fish, especially in the zebra fish, a regeneration takes place in a way that interests scientists very much because perhaps it could be possible to establish the same process also in future humans.

Among other things, zebrafish are animals already known in medical research and used in a myriad of studies and experiments because they share many of their genes with humans.

Following a cardiac trauma, the cardiomyocytes of the zebrafish do not die but divide and generate a new heart muscle. However, researchers from the Swiss institute have noted that not all cardiomyocytes of this fish contribute to muscle regeneration; some of them seem to have an enhanced regeneration ability.

As explained in the study published in Cell Reports, these special cells differ in gene expression from other cardiomyocytes. This indicates that they are part of another different subset of cells. By eliminating this subset of cells, heart regeneration itself was severely impaired in fish, indicating their primary role in the heart regeneration process.

Now the researchers want to understand if the discovery related to the special role of these “super cells” in terms of regeneration of the heart tissue can be useful for those mammals in which the heart does not regenerate instead very efficiently, as in humans.