A protein in the mind has been found to control heart vitality. According to findings at John Hopkins University, BDNF, a protein known to be a natural stress reliever and antidepressant, helps the heart muscles contract and relax properly. BDNF enhances memory and learning, powers cell growth and sustains blood vessels.

BDNF is what is called a nerve growth factor. It stands for brain-derived neurotrophic factor. BDNF deficiency or the cell's insensitivity to the presence of BDNF can cause heart muscle dysfunction. This is paricularly the case when the heart is under repeated or chronic stress such as during endurance training or when a person has high blood pressure. The distruption of BDNF can cause heart muscle failure.

This finding makes BDNF a therapeutic target, which means it can be used to treat heart patients. About 6 million people suffer from heart failure in the United States and more than 23 million suffer from it worldwide.

This research suggests there may be a biochemical link between depression and heart disease. These diseases tend to occur together, but the link between them remains unknown. The study concludes that BDNF controls the heart's ability to beat properly.

For the experiments, scientists isolated cardiac cells from mice with either normal or failing hearts in a lab dish and exposed the cells to BDNF. The normal heart cells responded by vigorously contracting and relaxing in the dish, whereas cells from weak hearts faintly responded to the BDNF, if at all. The scientists found that there was a difference in the receptor molecule TrkB in weak and normal heart cells. TrkB is located on the surface of cells and is responsible for transmitting BDNF's signals inside the cell. The TrkB in weak heart cells was less sensitive to BDNF.

Abnormality in the way BDNF communicates with the receptor TrkB leads to impaired poor cardiac function.

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