Heart illustrationEnzymes that fuel the spread of cancer may also spur heart muscle cells to enlarge, according to new research in mice. The findings suggest that cancer drugs used to suppress the enzymes might find new use as a heart treatment.

Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Harry S. Moss Heart Center in Dallas made the discovery while studying cardiac hypertrophy, a condition that causes excess enlargement of heart muscle cells as a result of high blood pressure, heart failure or diseased heart valves. People with cardiac hypertrophy can experience shortness of breath, fatigue, fainting and chest pain.

Known as HDACs, the enzymes regulate how DNA is copied and repaired. They also affect mTOR, a  molecule responsible for cell growth. Researchers found that mice with inactivated HDACs had less mTOR activity, which slowed the enlargement of heart cells.

“This work opens the possibility of repurposing a drug that has been in use in cancer treatment for over a decade to target hypertrophic heart disease, a form of heart disease for which we have no effective therapy,” the study’s senior author Joseph Hill, M.D., Ph.D., said in a news release.

Investigators hope to eventually test the idea in humans.

“This work strengthens our emerging understanding of commonalities between cancer and heart disease,” said Hill, chief of cardiology at UT Southwestern and director of the Harry S. Moss Heart Center.

“HDAC inhibitors are approved to treat various cancers, and our results suggest how these drugs might work when repurposed to prevent heart failure,” said lead author Cyndi Morales, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher at UT Southwestern.

The study appears in the journal Science Signaling.