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Finding the Beat

Studying how the rhythm of beats is maintained using powerful microscopy in fat-cleared hearts

17 May 2019

Finding the Beat

To keep our hearts beating in time the autonomic nervous system carries pulses of electrical activity deep into their muscular walls, causing repeating patterns of contractions. Usually hidden behind layers of fatty molecules, the nerves in this mouse heart are revealed in bright colours under a high-powered microscope after a chemical wash to clear the fats away. Computer algorithms help to spot the ‘circuits’ of nerves, colour-coding them by diameter (left, blue thinnest, red thickest) or by their orientation with the heart (right). These patterns reveal fresh details about how heart rhythm in maintained, but also provide a comparison for future studies – using similar techniques to examine how these patterns are disrupted by cardiovascular diseases and conditions such as myocardial infarction.

Written by John Ankers

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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