A study led by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, has identified critical biochemical pathways linked to the aging of human muscle. By manipulating these pathways, the researchers were able to turn back the clock on old human muscle, restoring its ability to repair and rebuild itself, according to a press release from UC Berkeley.
The findings were reported in the Sept. 30 issue of the journal EMBO Molecular Medicine, a peer-reviewed, scientific publication of the European Molecular Biology Organization.
“Our study shows that the ability of old human muscle to be maintained and repaired by muscle stem cells can be restored to youthful vigor given the right mix of biochemical signals,” said Professor Irina Conboy, a faculty member in the graduate bioengineering program that is run jointly by UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco, and head of the research team conducting the study. “This provides promising new targets for forestalling the debilitating muscle atrophy that accompanies aging, and perhaps other tissue degenerative disorders as well.”
Previous research in animal models led by Conboy, who is also an investigator at the Berkeley Stem Cell Center and at the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3), revealed that the ability of adult stem cells to do their job of repairing and replacing damaged tissue is governed by the molecular signals they get from surrounding muscle tissue, and that those signals change with age in ways that preclude productive tissue repair.
Those studies have also shown that the regenerative function in old stem cells can be revived given the appropriate biochemical signals. What was not clear until this new study was whether similar rules applied for humans. Unlike humans, laboratory animals are bred to have identical genes and are raised in similar environments, noted Conboy, who received a New Faculty Award from the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) that helped fund this research. Moreover, the typical human lifespan lasts seven to eight decades, while lab mice are reaching the end of their lives by age 2.