Heart failure could lead to cognitive decline due to a small calcium leak within the brain’s neurons, suggests new research by scientists at Columbia University.
The study, published in Nature Neuroscience, presents a potential explanation for the condition known as cardiogenic dementia and opens the way for new therapeutic approaches.
“We’ve known for many years that patients with heart failure tend to be cognitively impaired, but this was viewed as a coincidence.
Only recently have studies suggested that heart failure causes cognitive problems,” says Dr. Andrew R. Marks, who led the research.
Marks and his team hypothesized that a cellular calcium leak contributing to heart failure may also lead to cognitive decline in patients.
Calcium Leak in Brain Neurons
Calcium flows through a specific channel within heart cells, but this channel may malfunction and leak calcium when overstimulated, particularly during the early stages of heart failure.
This leakage depletes the heart cells of calcium needed for contraction, further exacerbating heart failure.
Given that the same calcium channel exists in the brain, the researchers wondered if calcium leaks within brain cells could cause cognitive impairment.
Their study found that in mice with heart failure, calcium leaks in the brain’s neurons indeed led to cognitive impairment.
Additionally, they discovered that cognition could be protected if the calcium leak was blocked with an experimental drug.
Autopsies of patients who had heart failure revealed the presence of these leaky calcium channels in their brains, suggesting a similar mechanism may lead to cognitive impairment in humans.
Potential Mechanisms of Cognitive Impairment
The research team proposes two hypotheses for how these calcium leaks could cause cognitive problems.
One suggestion is that the leaked calcium activates certain enzymes that trigger a response observed in Alzheimer’s disease patients.
Alternatively, the leaks could cause abnormalities in parts of neurons that are essential for transmitting signals in the brain, explains Marks.
Promising Drug Treatment
The Marks lab has developed an experimental drug, Rycals, designed to plug the calcium leak and slow heart failure progression.
This drug may also have beneficial effects on the brain. Currently, Rycals is in clinical trials for individuals with heart and other muscle disorders caused by leaky calcium channels.
If you care about heart failure, please read studies about diabetes drug that could revolutionize heart failure treatment, and this drug can be a low-cost heart failure treatment
For more information about heart health, please see recent studies that exercise in middle age reversed worrisome heart failure, and results showing this drug combo can cut the risk of stroke and heart attack by half.
The study was published in Nature Neuroscience.
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