Breakthrough in understanding the aging process achieved
Researchers have now succeeded in reversing the aging process for brain cells in mice. The findings have a profound impact on how we understand the aging process and how we may be able to develop much-needed therapies for age-related brain disorders.
The current study from the internationally renowned University of Cambridge has found that it is possible to reverse the aging process of stem cells in the brain of mice. The results of the study were published in the English-language journal "Nature".
What is an age-related stiffening of the brain?
As you get older, your brain's stem cells can function. In their study, researchers are exploring new ways to transform older stem cells into a younger, healthier state. This can contribute to the development of much needed therapies for age-related brain disorders. As our body ages, muscles and joints can become stiff, making daily exercise difficult. This study shows that this is also the case in our brain, and that the age-related stiffening of the brain has a significant impact on brain stem cell function, the research team reports.
What Are Oligodendrocyte Stem Cells?
In the study, young and old rat brains were examined to understand the influence of age-related brain changes on the function of oligodendrocyte stem cells (OPCs). These cells are a type of brain stem cells that are important for maintaining normal brain function and for the regeneration of myelin, the fat layer that surrounds our nerves and has been damaged by multiple sclerosis (MS). The age effects on these cells contribute to MS, but their function also decreases with the age of healthy people.
Brain cells were rejuvenated
To determine if functional loss was reversible in older OPCs, researchers transplanted OPCs from older rats into the soft, spongy brain of younger animals. Remarkably, the older brain cells were rejuvenated and began to behave like the younger, stronger cells. To further investigate this, they developed new materials of varying rigidity in the laboratory and used them to grow and study rat brain stem cells in a controlled environment. To understand how the softness and stiffness of the brain affect cell behavior, the researchers looked at a protein on the cell surface called Piezo1, which informs the cell whether the environment is soft or rigid. When functional stem cells from the rat brain grew out on the rigid material, the cells became dysfunctional and their ability to regenerate was lost. Most interesting, however, was that the old brain cells, when grown on the soft material, began to function as young cells, the researchers report. In other words, the cells were rejuvenated.
Results could improve the treatment of multiple sclerosis
When Piezo1 was removed from the surface of older brain stem cells, these cells could be tempted to feel a soft environment even when grown on rigid material. Piezo1 could be removed in the OPCs of an aged rat brain, rejuvenating the cells and resuming their normal regeneration function, the researchers report. The team’s conclusions on how stem cells age in the brain and how this process can be reversed have important implications for the future treatment of MS, including the question of how possible lost brain functions can be recovered. (As)
- Michael Segel, Björn Neumann, Myfanwy F.E. Hill, Isabell P. Weber, Carlo Viscomi et al .: Niche rigidity lies behind the ancestral cells of the aging nervous system, in Nature (query: 15.08.2019), Nature