A discovery by researchers at the Montreal Heart Institute (MHI) could lead to more effective treatment of atrial fibrillation, a common form of cardiac arrhythmia.
It is estimated that about one in four people will develop atrial fibrillation during their lifetime. It affects 200,000 Canadians.
So far, treatment has focused on restoring a normal heart rhythm, controlling the rate of the heartbeat, and prescribing anticoagulants to reduce the risk of stroke.
MHI’s Dr. Stanley Nattel and his team, together with their American, Australian, and British colleagues, discovered that calcitonin, a well-known thyroid hormone, is also produced by cells of the heart.
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The hormone is secreted in particular by contractile cells, those that make the heart beat.
Calcitonin is not the only factor involved in atrial fibrillation, claims Nattel, but it does appear to contribute.
“In theory, finding a way to restore the normal function of calcitonin in the atrium could prevent atrial fibrillation or prevent relapse in a patient who has already had an episode,” Nattel explains.
“Atrial fibrillation is linked to a large number of strokes in the elderly. So, effective prevention of atrial fibrillation would have a very beneficial effect for this group,” says Nattel.
The findings were first published in the scientific journal Nature.