UT Southwestern researchers Drs. Kamm, Chang and Stull

Drs. Kristine Kamm, Audrey Chang and James Stull from UT Southwestern Medical Center led the study.

Researchers have identified a new enzyme that could improve heart contractions and contribute to future heart failure treatments, according to an international study published this week.

A “motor protein” called myosin enhances heart contraction through constant attachment of phosphate molecules to it, Dr. Audrey Chang, the study’s lead author and assistant professor of physiology at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, said in a news release.

Researchers for the first time identified the structure of MLCK4, an enzyme newly reported to be found in heart muscle. MLCK4 and the enzyme MLCK3 provide phosphate molecules to myosin.

Low amounts of phosphate molecule attachment leads to heart failure. Higher amounts of attachment improve heart performance, according to Dr. James Stull, professor of physiology at UT Southwestern.

Targeting MLCK4 and MLCK3 for future heart failure treatments is “compelling,” Chang said.

Also contributing to the study were researchers at The University of Oxford, United Kingdom; Goethe University, Frankfurt, Germany; the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania; and the University of Florida College of Medicine.

The study was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.