Heart Disease Researchers Study Pythons' Enlarged Hearts
Heart disease researchers have discovered how pythons stay healthy after feeding, even when their hearts enlarge to 40 times their normal size.
"Fats in blood is usually associated with bad things in humans," lead researcher Leslie Leinwand of the University of Colorado's Biofrontiers Institute told The Denver Post. "We wanted to find out how the python manages to not have something toxic happen to it."
Burmese pythons can go up to a year without eating, but after a meal, the snake's heart enlarges and the triglycerides in its bloodstream increase to 50 times above normal. Massive amounts of fatty acids flood the snake's body, but unlike in humans with heart disease, they don't deposit in the heart. Leinwand's team found an enzyme that protects the heart from damage.
Researchers said there is good heart growth, as in athletes, and bad heart growth, as in people with chronic high blood pressure.
"It's very well known from decades of work that exercise is good for your heart," Leinwand told LiveScience. "But a lot of times, people who have heart disease can't exercise enough to get that benefit."
Three key fatty acids mimic the chemical makeup of a python's blood afer a meal, a researchers injected one group of mice with plasma taken from pythons who had just eaten, and another group with the mimicking acids. Both groups of mice showed heart growth and increased heart health, with no sign of stiff muscles that accompany heart growth in patients with heart disease.
"The idea is that you could give it to a mouse before getting heart disease, while it might be developing it, or after getting heart disease to see if it would prevent, slow down, or decrease the disease," said Leinwand.
The study appears in the Oct. 28 issue of the journal Science.