Dr. Heinrich Taegtmeyer
Dr. Heinrich Taegtmeyer

If you were looking for someone to write a comprehensive piece on how the body powers up the heart, the “Energy Capital of the World,” also known as Houston, would be a good place to start.

The American Heart Association (AHA) did just that when it asked Heinrich Taegtmeyer, M.D., D.Phil., professor of cardiovascular medicine at John P. and Kathrine G. McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, to take the lead on a scientific statement called “Assessing Cardiac Metabolism.”

“Dr. Taegtmeyer was selected to lead the working group on cardiac metabolism because of his stature as a leader in the field worldwide,” said Roberto Bolli, M.D., editor-in-chief of Circulation Research, a journal of the American Heart Association, and chief of the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Louisville School of Medicine.

“The editors are thankful to him for organizing and orchestrating this gargantuan effort, which has culminated in a magisterial, state-of-the art paper that will be a reference classic for many years to come,” Bolli said.

It was indeed a mammoth initiative as there were 21 contributors to the 43-page paper in Circulation Research. Taegtmeyer was the lead author and recruited the other authors from around the world. “The statement was really a team effort,” said Taegtmeyer, noting that their aim was to produce a compendium of best practices.

“At a time when the cardiovascular research community is discovering a plethora of new molecular methods to assess cardiac metabolism, the methods remain scattered in the literature,” wrote Taegtmeyer and his colleagues in the paper.

“The present statement on ‘Assessing Cardiac Metabolism’ seeks to provide a collective and curated resource on methods and models used to investigate established and emerging aspects of cardiac metabolism,” they reported.

Taegtmeyer likes to describe the heart as an engine using fat and glucose as its fuel. It is a powerful engine, too, pumping around 1,900 gallons of blood a day.

“Energy is the capacity to do work. Every engine converts one form of energy into another. The heart turns chemical energy into mechanical energy,” Taegtmeyer said.

“In a car, engine gasoline is converted into kinetic energy. The heart does the same thing. Energy goes in and energy comes out,” he said.

But, he said, how chemical energy is actually processed in heart muscle is much more complex than how energy is processed in a car. This is where metabolism comes in. Metabolic networks are defining features of every living cell.

“The whole system works in synchrony to support each heartbeat over the course of a lifetime,” Taegtmeyer said.

When the energy conversion process breaks down, heart attacks and heart failure occur. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States.

“This is a compendium of current knowledge regarding the role of mitochondria and metabolism in cardiac disease,” said Steven R. Houser, Ph.D., incoming president of the American Heart Association and senior associate dean for research at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University. “Dr. Taegtmeyer has been a leader in the study of the role of metabolism in cardiac disease for decades.”

Taegtmeyer received his medical degree from the University of Freiburg, Germany, and a doctorate degree from the University of Oxford, United Kingdom. He completed his residency at Boston City Hospital and a fellowship at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital.

Taegtmeyer’s lab studies regulation of energy substrate metabolism, gene expression and signal transduction in the heart. At the molecular level, the lab studies mechanisms by which metabolically generated signals regulate signaling pathways of cardiac growth and reverse remodeling (protein degradation).

Taegtmeyer has been a cardiologist on the faculty of McGovern Medical School since 1982. He is also a member of The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston.

The American Heart Association is a national voluntary health agency dedicated to fighting cardiovascular disease.