Snails take serotonin to heart

Snails take serotonin to heart

14 Jul 2009

Snails could be the key to reducing heart disease says Dr Michelle Gibson from La Trobe University.

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It's a rainy day and you’ve just planted some petunias in the garden. Unknowingly you’ve created an earthly version of snail heaven. Snail hormones begin circulating and hearts beating.

Strangely, the hormone that activates the snail heart is serotonin, the psychotropic chemical so beloved by anti-depressant manufacturers for its ability to quieten the human brain.

The snail heart copes well with the onslaught of serotonin. La Trobe pharmacologist Michelle Gibson has identified two serotonin receptors in the snail heart and is investigating changes in intra-cellular chemicals.

These studies could have implications for humans for the snail heart could be used as a model to study the side-effects of selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRI) drugs like Prozac.

Thought to be the wonder drug for controlling anxiety and depression, SSRI’s have now been shown to cause heart failure and cardiac disease in some susceptible takers. Diet pills that alter serotonin levels to suppress appetite have been withdrawn from the market in the United States because of their cardiovascular side effects, says Dr Gibson.

‘We don’t really understand the causes because most patients on SSRI’s have co-morbidity. They may be anxious, depressed, obese, smoke and drink, which can be contributing factors for heart disease.’

Dr Gibson says that snail heart tissue is much easier to obtain than human tissue and works as a good model. Snails hearts have a single auricle receiving blood from the lung and a single ventricle that pumps blood to the rest of the body, much like it does in humans. Dr Gibson’s results were recently presented to the Australian Health and Medical Research Congress in Brisbane.

Dr Michelle Gibson
Phone: 03 5444 7579

Ernest Raetz
Media and Communications
Phone: 03 9479 2315




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