Media Release | Feb. 17, 2013

Arrhythmia culprit caught in action

Using powerful X-rays, University of British Columbia researchers have reconstructed a crime scene too small for any microscope to observe – and caught the culprit of arrhythmia in action.

Characterized by the heart beating too fast, too slow or inconsistently, arrhythmias may cause a decrease of blood flow to the brain and body, resulting in heart palpitation, dizziness, fainting, or even death.

Presented today at the 2013 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston, the 3D animated model reveals for the first time how gene mutations affect the crucial pathway in heart muscle cells that controls its rhythm.


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“Our heart runs on calcium,” says UBC molecular biologist Filip Van Petegem. “Every heart beat is preceded by calcium ions rushing into heart muscle cells.”

“Then, a special protein opens the pathway for calcium to be released from compartments within these cells, and in turn initiates the contraction.”

Mutations to the gene that forms this protein have been linked to arrhythmia and sudden cardiac deaths in otherwise healthy people.

“Reconstructing the pathway and its dynamic motion enabled us to see the process in action,” says Van Petegem. “We found that the mutations destabilize the pathway’s structure, causing calcium to be released prematurely.

“Finding a way to stabilize the pathway could prevent these deadly conditions and save lives.”

NB: Prof. Van Petegem will be available for interviews from the AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston after 2:30 p.m. EST Feb 17. He can be reached at 604.209.3048 or petegem@mail.ubc.ca, or contact Brian Lin at 604.818.5685 or brian.lin@ubc.ca to schedule an interview. 

For more UBC news from AAAS 2013, visit http://aaas.ubc.ca or follow @ubcnews.

Videos: The structure of the calcium pathway in heart muscle cells


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Contact

Prof. Filip Van Petegem
UBC Dept. of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Cell: 604.209.3048
E-mail: petegem@mail.ubc.ca

Brian Lin
UBC Public Affairs
Tel: 604.822.2234
Cell: 604.818.5685
E-mail: brian.lin@ubc.ca

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Images

Powerful X-rays reveal the tiny "crime scene" of one of arrhythmia's culprits. (Image: Van Petegem Lab, UBC) Powerful X-rays reveal the tiny "crime scene" of one of arrhythmia's culprits. (Image: Van Petegem Lab, UBC)

Powerful X-rays reveal the tiny "crime scene" of one of arrhythmia's culprits. (Image: Van Petegem Lab, UBC) Powerful X-rays reveal the tiny "crime scene" of one of arrhythmia's culprits. (Image: Van Petegem Lab, UBC)

UBC researchers use X-rays to probe the structure of a critical calcium ion pathway that regulates our heartbeats. (Image: Van Petegem Lab, UBC)

UBC researchers use X-rays to probe the structure of a critical calcium ion pathway that regulates our heartbeats. (Image: Van Petegem Lab, UBC)

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