Newswise — NEWARK, N.J. -- A protective response to starvation may promote heart failure, according to a study just published in Cell Metabolism. Two proteins that team up to conserve energy when food is scarce also limit energy production in the heart—a situation that can prove fatal when the heart is stressed and in need of an energy boost.

During starvation, the body conserves energy by slowing down the cell’s powerhouse organelles, the mitochondria. This slackens the function of the vital organs, including the heart, thus preserving available energy and prolonging survival. Junichi Sadoshima, MD, PhD, and colleagues at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ)-New Jersey Medical School have discovered that two proteins, called PPAR-alpha and Sirt1, are induced by starvation in mice and turn off the expression of genes involved in mitochondrial function and heart contraction.

When the heart is stressed, it requires extra energy to maintain heart beat and blood pressure. Unfortunately, however, expression of PPAR-alpha and Sirt1 was also increased in stressed hearts, thus restricting energy just when the heart needs it most. If the same holds true in humans, it may be beneficial to target these proteins in patients with heart failure.

The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) is the nation's largest free-standing public health sciences university with more than 6,000 students attending the state's three medical schools, its only dental school, a graduate school of biomedical sciences, a school of health related professions, a school of nursing and its only school of public health on five campuses. UMDNJ operates University Hospital, a Level I Trauma Center in Newark, and University Behavioral HealthCare, which provides a continuum of healthcare services with multiple locations throughout the state.

Register for reporter access to contact details

Cell Metabolism (2 November 2011 (Vol. 14, Issue 5, pp. 598-611))