New Life for Old Cells

By reversing deterioration in muscle cells, researchers may be one step closer to novel treatments for age-related disorders.

aging leaf.

Youth is wasted on the young, as the saying goes. But what if the strength and vitality associated with youth could be restored in aging cells?

A new study led by the University at Buffalo sheds light on that possibility. The researchers have shown that a protein named for the mythical land of youth in Irish folklore is effective at reversing aging in skeletal muscle cells—a finding that could lead to new treatments or therapies for diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cardiovascular diseases and cancer.

Reversing deterioration

The study centers on the protein NANOG, whose name is derived from Tír na nÓg, a place in Irish lore renowned for everlasting youth, beauty and health.

In a series of experiments, researchers overexpressed NANOG in myoblasts, which are the embryonic precursors to muscle tissue. The myoblasts were senescent, meaning that they were no longer able to divide and grow.

The overexpression alleviated age-related deterioration of several cellular functions and characteristics, including, among others, homeostasis, genomic stability, and autophagy, which plays a role in development and protection against disease.

Potential target for treatments

Most notably, NANOG increased the number of muscle stem cells in the muscle of prematurely aging mice. This demonstrated the feasibility of reversing cellular aging in the body without the need to reprogram cells in a process that’s often used in stem cell therapy but runs the risk of generating tumors.

 “Our work focuses on understanding the mechanisms of NANOG’s actions in hopes of discovering druggable targets in signaling or metabolic networks that mimic the anti-aging effects of NANOG,” says Stelios T. Andreadis, SUNY Distinguished Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering and the study’s corresponding author.

“Ultimately,” he says, “the work could help lead to new treatments or therapies that help reverse cellular senescence, and aid the many people suffering from age-related disorders.”