New research from the field of regenerative medicine has found how stem cells can be used to rejuvenate muscle tissue.
Regenerative medicine is an emerging field that is focused on replacing tissue or organs that have been damaged by disease, trauma, or aging as opposed to more conventional medicine that focuses primarily on treating the symptoms of disease.
One of the cornerstones of regenerative medicine is developing technologies and treatment modalities based on the power of stem cells. Such stem cell protocols have already been put into practical use to regenerate heart tissue and corneas.
Now, researchers at the Salk Institute have uncovered a mechanism by which stem cells can help regenerate muscles. The discovery could provide a new drug target for repairing muscles after an injury or rebuilding muscle mass lost during the normal aging process.
Degenerate muscle loss is a major problem as we age. It also is a debilitating issue in “muscle wasting” disorders like HIV/AIDS or muscular dystrophy. To counter this loss, scientists at the Salk Institute are studying ways to accelerate the regeneration of muscle tissue, using a combination of molecular compounds that are commonly used in stem-cell research.
The breakthrough started with a set of proteins called Yamanaka factors, which are among the “growth factors” in stem cells that have long been studied as a key part of stem cell therapy. “Our laboratory previously showed that these factors can rejuvenate cells and promote tissue regeneration in live animals,” says Chao Wang, first author of the study. “But how this happens was not previously known.”
So the Salk team set out to investigate that mechanism. In muscle regeneration, Yamanaka factors seem to act on muscle stem cells called satellite cells. On closer inspection, the researchers found that the Yamanaka factors reduced levels of a particular protein called “Wnt4,” which seems to be what activates the satellite cells to produce more muscle fiber. That protein could be a useful target for future drugs that may help boost muscle regeneration.
One of the many effects of aging is loss of muscle mass, which contributes to disability in older people.
With this new target in the crosshairs for future studies, scientists can begin to investigate new drugs – perhaps based on the action of Wnt4, that will help regenerate muscles after injuries or to slow muscle loss during the aging process or disease.
The research was published in the journal Nature Communications.