Wow: Scientists created a 3D heart model that shows the heart’s neurons | The Optimist Daily
Today’s Solutions: June 21, 2024

Everyone knows that the heart’s critical role is circulating oxygen and blood throughout the body — a role that is maintained in the brain through a network of nerves between the brain and the heart. Damage to those nerves could cause a heart attack, heart disease, or even death. But what isn’t thoroughly understood is the heart’s own neurons.

Surrounding the heart is a lattice of nerve cells that act as the heart’s mini-brain, controlling the heart’s rhythm and monitoring local heart heath. How it works has long been a mystery. Using a rat heart as a model, scientists at Thomas Jefferson University have mapped a new virtual 3D heart model in striking detail—mapping the network of neurons surrounding the heart for the first time.

“Many cardiologists aren’t even aware there are neurons in the heart, let alone that they are critical to heart health,” says pathologist Schwaber. 

Schwaber says that this 3D heart model provides a roadmap for studying the connections, placement, and properties of the heart’s neurons. For example, the team discovered a cluster of neurons at the base of the heart. The cluster surrounds a “sinoatrial” node, which is important for setting your heart rate. They also found differences between the neural organization of male and female rats’ hearts, which could help scientists understand why heart disease differs between the sexes.

The team hopes to eventually replicate this heart model with healthy and diseased human hearts. Their work could make an impact on medicine, such as effective treatments using neuromodulation, or electrical stimulation.

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