Python Findings Shed Light on Human Heart Health

After feeding, snake blood has high levels of enzymes that protect the heart

THURSDAY, Oct. 27 (HealthDay News) -- Huge amounts of fatty acids that circulate in the bloodstreams of pythons when they feed promote healthy heart growth, a finding that may lead to new ways to treat heart disease in people, researchers report.

One day after eating, triglyceride levels in Burmese pythons increased by more than 50-fold. Triglycerides are the main component of natural fats and oils.

There was also an increase in the activity of an enzyme known to protect the heart from damage, the University of Colorado Boulder researchers found.

The team identified the chemical composition of blood plasma in pythons that had just fed. They injected fasting pythons with either "fed python" blood plasma or a fatty acid mixture they created to mimic such plasma.

Both types of injections led to increased heart growth and indicators of cardiac health in the fasting snakes.

The same results were seen in mice that were injected with either "fed python" blood plasma or the fatty acid mixture.

"We found that a combination of fatty acids can induce beneficial heart growth in living organisms," first author and postdoctoral researcher Cecilia Riquelme said in a university news release. "Now we are trying to understand the molecular mechanisms behind the process in hopes that the results might lead to new therapies to improve heart disease conditions in humans."

The study appears in the Oct. 28 issue of the journal Science.

The three key fatty acids in fed-python plasma are myristic acid, palmitic acid and palmitoleic acid. The enzyme that showed increased activity in the python hearts during feeding is called superoxide dismutase. It's a well-known enzyme that protects the heart in humans and many other living organisms, the researchers noted.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains what you can do to prevent heart disease.

Robert Preidt SOURCE: University of Colorado Boulder, news release, Oct. 27, 2011

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