In their quest to treat cardiovascular disease, researchers and pharmaceutical companies have long been interested in developing new medicines that activate a heart protein called APJ. But researchers at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute and the Stanford University School of Medicine have now uncovered a second, previously unknown, function for APJ—it senses mechanical changes when the heart is in danger and sets the body on a course toward heart failure. This means that activating APJ could actually be harmful in some cases—potentially eye-opening information for some heart drug makers. The study appears July 18 in Nature.
“Just finding a molecule that activates APJ is not enough. What’s important to heart failure is not if this receptor is ‘on’ or ‘off,’ but the way it’s activated,” said Pilar Ruiz-Lozano, Ph.D., who led the study. Ruiz-Lozano, formerly assistant professor at Sanford-Burnham, is now associate professor of pediatrics in the Stanford University School of Medicine and adjunct faculty member at Sanford-Burnham.