Implications of having a big heart...if you happen to be a snake

As many people know, snakes do not need to eat very often. What I just learned from a recent article in Science magazine is that for Burmese pythons, many organs actually increase in mass after eating a large meal and blood levels of fatty acids are substantially elevated. Riquelme et al, were interested in what happens to the hearts, specifically. What they found was that the heart cells increased in size within 3 days after the snakes ate a meal (see figure). In addition, the python hearts developed an increased ability to take up and metabolize fatty acids but had also developed protective measures against oxidative stress. So even though their hearts were getting larger, they seemed to be protected from the increases in circulating fatty acids following a meal. The researchers speculate that supplementation with fatty acids should be studied as a potential mechanism for improving cardiac performance in humans and other mammals.

snake heart.jpg
Image: Figure 1 from the article, where DPF=days post-feeding

CA Riquelme, JA Magida, BC Harrison, CE Wall, TG Marr, SM Secor, LA Leinwand. Fatty Acids Identified in the Burmese Python Promote Beneficial Cardiac Growth. Science 334(6055): 528-531, 2011. DOI: 10.1126/science.1210558

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