24 June 2010

Networks involved in heart diseases resemble Facebook

Researchers from the University of Copenhagen, the Technical University of Denmark, Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have analysed the development of the heart in human fetuses using super computers. This has made it possible to map how hundreds of genes integrate into molecular communication networks throughout heart development.

"To our surprise it turns out that these networks follow the same complicated mathematic rules as the Internet and social networks found on Facebook," say the project managers behind the research, Kasper Lage from
Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Lars Allan Larsen from Wilhelm Johannsen Centre for Functional Genome Research, University of Copenhagen. "We have used heart development as a model, because the heart is well described, and there are large amounts of relevant data available. However, the processes we investigate are general to the development of all vital organs like the brain, the liver, and the kidneys. These processes are far from understood, because they are based on complicated interactions between hundreds of genes which communicate in time and space. Elucidating such basic biological principles increases our understanding of the development of organs, and facilitates the development of new treatments like stem cell therapy and other types of regenerative medicine."

Experiments confirm results
Søren Brunak from Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research, University of Copenhagen and Center for Biological Sequence Analysis, Technical University of Denmark, explains the method behind the discovery: "Using super computers we integrated large amounts of data from thousands of previous experiments. Hereby, we mapped the molecular networks driving heart development which are defective in heart diseases. We followed up these analyses with experiments which confirmed the networks calculated by the computers."

Better understanding of schizophrenia and dementia
The discovery also leads to insight into the mechanisms coordinating the development and maintenance of the brain, even though the brain is far more complicated than the heart. Niels Tommerup from Wilhelm Johannsen Centre for Functional Genome Research explains: "We can now use the same strategy to characterise the complex molecular networks, which are disrupted in patients suffering from depression, schizophrenia, autism, epilepsy, dementia and ADHD."

The research has been published 22 June 2010 in the international journal Molecular Systems Biology - please click here for the article!

Researchers from the following research institutes have participated:
• The Danish National Research Foundation's Wilhelm Johannsen Centre for Functional Genome Research, University of Copenhagen
• Center for Biological Sequence Analysis, the Technical University of Denmark
• Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research, University of Copenhagen
• Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, University of Copenhagen
• Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston
• Harvard Medical School, Boston,
• Broad Institute of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard, Boston

For more information, please contact:
• Associate Professor Lars Allan Larsen, Vice Centre Director, Wilhelm Johannsen Centre for Functional Genome Research, University of Copenhagen, e-mail: larsal@sund.ku.dk, mobile: +45 28 48 50 47

• PhD Kasper Lage, Director of Bioinformatics, Harvard Reproductive Endocrine Sciences Center and Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research, University of Copenhagen, lage.kasper@mgh.harvard.edu, mobile: +45 53 64 29 00