Intimate hormone repairs cells after a heart attack, Michigan researchers find

One study found that falling in love can actually heal a broken heart.

Oxytocin is produced by our bodies when we cuddle, have sex, and fall in love.

Now, scientists in Michigan have discovered it also seems to have the ability to repair cells in an injured heart.

When someone has a heart attack, their heart cells – which allow it to contract – die in large numbers.

They are highly specialized cells and cannot replenish themselves

But the researchers found that oxytocin stimulated stem cells in the outer layer of the heart, which migrate to the middle layer and turn into heart muscle cells.

The findings so far have only been in zebrafish and in human cells in the laboratory. But it is hoped that the love hormone could one day be used to develop a treatment.

Oxytocin is produced by our bodies when we cuddle, have sex, and fall in love. Now, scientists believe it can heal damaged heart cells (file image)

Thanks to oxytocin, zebrafish are able to regrow parts of their hearts, and the researchers found that the cuddling hormone has a similar effect on human tissue.

Lead author of the study, Dr Aitor Aguirre, assistant professor of biology at Michigan State University, said: ‘Here we show that oxytocin has the ability to activate heart repair mechanisms in hearts that are damaged. injury in zebrafish and human cell cultures, opening the door to new potential for cardiac regenerative therapy in humans. ‘

Cardiomyocetes often die off after a heart attack and cannot be replenished.


Oxytocin, known as the ‘love hormone’, induces trust and generosity.

Chemicals are released naturally from the brain into the bloodstream of humans and other mammals during social and sexual behaviors.

It is produced by women during labor to help them bond with their baby and stimulate breast milk production.

This chemical is also released during sex, earning it the nickname the ‘cuddle hormone’.

Other loving touches, from hugging a teddy bear to petting your dog, also trigger hormone secretion.

But previous research has shown that some cells in the outer layer of the heart can undergo reprogramming to become temporary heart cells.

However, humans cannot do this alone.

This led researchers to find out if zebrafish – which have a unique ability to regrow body parts such as brains, bones and skin – might hold the key.

Although they themselves do not suffer a heart attack, their predators are happy to bite any organ – including the heart.

Zebrafish can regenerate up to a quarter of an organ, due to the abundance of cardiomyocetes and other cells that can be reprogrammed.

The researchers found that within 3 days of a heart injury, oxytocin levels in the brain increased up to 20-fold.

They also show that this hormone is then directly involved in the heart’s healing process.

Importantly, oxytocin had a similar effect on human tissue in vitro.

Dr Aguirre added: ‘Oxytocin is widely used in the clinic for other reasons, so reintroducing it to patients after heart damage is not far-fetched.

‘Even if cardiac reconstruction is only partial, the benefits for patients can be huge.’

The researchers’ next steps will be to look at the effects of oxytocin in humans after heart injury.

Naturally produced hormones are short-lived in the body, which means longer-term oxytocin may be needed.

The findings were published in the journal Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology.

Oxytocin is also used to stimulate or improve contractions during labor, as well as to reduce bleeding after delivery.

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