The Zebrafish Heart: Similarities To Humans And Possible Studies

The heart of the Zebrafish is remarkably similar to a human heart. This makes the Zebrafish an ideal species for the study of various cardiovascular diseases in humans. 

These animals are used to monitor the evolution and development of heart disease including the regeneration of the heart after damage. Zebrafish can also be used to study the effect of drugs and treatments on the heart.

One of the advantages of the Zebrafish animal model is that these fish are a cost-effective and easy species to breed, with hundreds being reproduced at once. 

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The Similarities Between The Zebrafish And The Human Heart

The study of Zebrafish hearts for cardiovascular repair and function is a crucial research technique in the quest for finding treatment for human heart conditions. 

When a human heart develops, four chambers form in order to provide blood flow to the lungs and the rest of the body. The two chambers at the top of the heart are known as the left and right atriums and the two at the bottom are the left and right ventricles. The main cells found in the heart are known as cardiomyocytes and assist the heart with pumping blood and beating. When the heart is damaged these cardiomyocytes are lost and cannot be regained, often causing death or a limited quality of life.

But there is still much to learn about the differences between the right and left chambers of the human heart. 

The Zebrafish adult heart is not the same as the human heart as it has a simpler structure, but it is similar enough to replicate cardiovascular function. It only has a single atrium and ventricle (which contains two kinds of cardiac muscle), but these work in an equivalent way to those of a human heart. 

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Possible Zebrafish Heart Studies

The Zebrafish heart functions in a similar manner to the human heart and research using this model can be applied to gain an understanding of the behaviour of certain genes that might facilitate the development of cures for cardiovascular diseases.

Zebrafish hearts have been used to study: 

  • Arrhythmia. The heart rate rhythm is irregular and the heart beats too slowly or too fast).
  • QT interval. Long QT syndrome is a disorder of ventricular repolarization of the heart that predisposes affected individuals to lethal cardiac arrhythmias.
  • Congenital heart defects. A defect in the structure of the heart.
  • Cardiomyopathy. Any heart muscle disease that makes it harder for the heart to pump blood around the body.

Another valuable cardiovascular study performed on Zebrafish is heart regeneration. Adult mammals are unable to regenerate the heart muscle cells once they become damaged, whereas the Zebrafish heart is able to do this. 

When a human survives a heart attack the heart tissue is often damaged and the heart cannot repair itself. An understanding of why the human heart is unable to do this and research into how it may be treated in the future to encourage tissue regeneration is an important part of the study of human heart failure. 

A Zebrafish embryo is transparent, making it easy for studies of the heart to take place. It is possible to monitor the growth and development of the heart in a Zebrafish, which evolves in a similar way to the human heart. Fluorescent tags can be used to pinpoint and monitor different cells of the heart. The transparency also allows for the Zebrafish to be studied in vivo, giving more accurate results than from a non-living specimen.

In addition to studying disease development and repair after heart damage, the Zebrafish is also used as a model to study genetic influence in heart disease. They can be used to carry out research on heart defects and how and why these develop in humans. This is due to the similarities the Zebrafish genome has with that of humans.

Zebrafish gene manipulation is much faster and less expensive than testing on other animals, making it a popular choice for scientific research, especially in the field of cardiovascular research. 

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