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URMC / Research / Research@URMC / May 2016 / Study: A “Slick” Gene Helps Protect the Heart

Study: A “Slick” Gene Helps Protect the Heart

Scientists have identified a gene that is crucial for anesthetic preconditioning, a process used in coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery to protect a patient’s heart while it is stopped and blood flow and oxygen delivery to the organ are reduced.Anatomy of the human heart.

The research team at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, led by Paul S. Brookes, Ph.D., and Keith Nehrke, Ph.D. found that a gene dubbed “Slick” (the technical name is KCNT2 or Slo 2.1) is required for anesthetic preconditioning to occur in mice. This gene is also found in humans and the team hypothesizes that it is necessary for the effective use of anesthetic preconditioning in people, too.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 395,000 CABG surgeries are performed every year. To initiate anesthetic preconditioning, a physician administers a specific type of anesthetic, called a volatile anesthetic, prior to the surgery. Some research suggests that volatile anesthetics help limit damage to the heart while it is temporarily stopped so the surgeon can perform the delicate bypass operation. But, the molecular mechanisms that underlie this process were previously unknown. 

Brookes, a professor of Anesthesiology, and Nehrke, a professor of Medicine, Nephrology began studying anesthetic preconditioning in the roundworm C. elegans. They identified several related genes that may be necessary for it to work, and by process of elimination isolated Slick as the crucial cog in the wheel.

The new study, published this month in the journal Anesthesiology, is important because knowledge of Slick’s role in anesthetic preconditioning could help with the development of new drugs and strategies for cardiac protection in CABG patients.

The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and carried out in large part by first author Andrew P. Wojtovich, Ph.D., now a newly appointed assistant professor in the Departments of Anesthesiology and Pharmacology and Physiology at the School of Medicine and Dentistry.

Brookes and Nehrke are continuing their work on Slick. Because the gene is highly conserved from worms, to mice, to humans, they think it may play a role beyond just mediating anesthetic preconditioning, possibly contributing to the regulation of important processes like metabolism.

Read the full study here.

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Emily Boynton | 5/11/2016

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