Green Tea Help’s Memory, Weight Loss and Brain Insulin Resistance

Green Tea

A study published online in The FASEB Journal, involving mice, suggests that EGCG (epigallocatechin-3-gallate), the most abundant catechin and biologically active component in green tea, could help insulin resistance and improve cognition. Previous research pointed to the potential of EGCG to help a variety of human conditions, yet until now, EGCG’s impact on insulin resistance and cognition triggered in the brain remained unclear.

“Green tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world after water, and is grown in at least 30 countries,” said Xuebo Liu, Ph.D., a researcher at the College of Food Science and Engineering, Northwest A&F University, in Yangling, China. The ancient habit of drinking green tea may be beneficial when it comes to combatting obesity, insulin resistance, and improving memory.

Liu and colleagues divided 3-month-old male C57BL/6J mice into three groups based on diet: 1) a control group fed with a standard diet, 2) a group fed with an HFFD diet (high-fat and high-fructose diet), and 3) a group fed with an HFFD diet and 2 grams of EGCG per liter of drinking water. For 16 weeks, researchers monitored the mice and found that those fed with HFFD had a higher final body weight than the control mice, and a significantly higher final body weight than the HFFD+EGCG mice. In performing a Morris water maze test, researchers found that mice in the HFFD group took longer to find the platform compared to mice in the control group. The HFFD+EGCG group had a significantly lower escape latency and escape distance than the HFFD group on each test day. When the hidden platform was removed to perform a probe trial, HFFD-treated mice spent less time in the target quadrant when compared with control mice, with fewer platform crossings. The HFFD+EGCG group exhibited a significant increase in the average time spent in the target quadrant and had greater numbers of platform crossings, showing that EGCG could improve HFFD-induced memory impairment.

“Many reports, anecdotal and to some extent research-based, are now greatly strengthened by this more penetrating study,” said Thoru Pederson, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal.

Brain Cells in the Hypothalamus Control the Rate of Aging

Brain

Scientists at Albert Einstein College of Medicine have found that stem cells in the brain’s hypothalamus govern how fast aging occurs in the body. The finding, made in mice, could lead to new strategies for warding off age-related diseases and extending lifespan. The paper was published in Nature.

The hypothalamus was known to regulate important processes including growth, development, reproduction and metabolism. In a 2013 Nature paper, Einstein researchers made the surprising finding that the hypothalamus also regulates aging throughout the body. Now, the scientists have pinpointed the cells in the hypothalamus that control aging: a tiny population of adult neural stem cells, which were known to be responsible for forming new brain neurons.

“Our research shows that the number of hypothalamic neural stem cells naturally declines over the life of the animal, and this decline accelerates aging,” says senior author Dongsheng Cai, M.D., Ph.D., (professor of molecular pharmacology at Einstein. “But we also found that the effects of this loss are reversible. By replenishing these stem cells or the molecules they produce, it’s possible to slow and even reverse various aspects of aging throughout the body.”

In studying whether stem cells in the hypothalamus held the key to aging, the researchers first looked at the fate of those cells as healthy mice got older. The number of hypothalamic stem cells began to diminish when the animals reached about 10 months, which is several months before the usual signs of aging start appearing. “By old age which is about two years in mice most of those cells were gone,” says Dr. Cai.

The researchers next wanted to learn whether this progressive loss of stem cells was actually causing aging and was not just associated with it. So they observed what happened when they selectively disrupted the hypothalamic stem cells in middle-aged mice. “This disruption greatly accelerated aging compared with control mice, and those animals with disrupted stem cells died earlier than normal,” says Dr. Cai.

Could adding stem cells to the hypothalamus counteract aging? To answer that question, the researchers injected hypothalamic stem cells into the brains of middle-aged mice whose stem cells had been destroyed as well as into the brains of normal old mice. In both groups of animals, the treatment slowed or reversed various measures of aging.

Dr. Cai and his colleagues found that the hypothalamic stem cells appear to exert their anti-aging effects by releasing molecules called microRNAs (miRNAs). They are not involved in protein synthesis but instead play key roles in regulating gene expression. miRNAs are packaged inside tiny particles called exosomes, which hypothalamic stem cells release into the cerebrospinal fluid of mice.

The researchers extracted miRNA-containing exosomes from hypothalamic stem cells and injected them into the cerebrospinal fluid of two groups of mice: middle-aged mice whose hypothalamic stem cells had been destroyed and normal middle-aged mice. This treatment significantly slowed aging in both groups of animals as measured by tissue analysis and behavioral testing that involved assessing changes in the animals’ muscle endurance, coordination, social behavior and cognitive ability.

The researchers are now trying to identify the particular populations of microRNAs and perhaps other factors secreted by these stem cells that are responsible for these anti-aging effects a first step toward possibly slowing the aging process and treating age-related diseases.

Abstract: “It has been proposed that the hypothalamus helps to control ageing, but the mechanisms responsible remain unclear. Here we develop several mouse models in which hypothalamic stem/progenitor cells that co-express Sox2 and Bmi1 are ablated, as we observed that ageing in mice started with a substantial loss of these hypothalamic cells. Each mouse model consistently displayed acceleration of ageing-like physiological changes or a shortened lifespan. Conversely, ageing retardation and lifespan extension were achieved in mid-aged mice that were locally implanted with healthy hypothalamic stem/progenitor cells that had been genetically engineered to survive in the ageing-related hypothalamic inflammatory microenvironment. Mechanistically, hypothalamic stem/progenitor cells contributed greatly to exosomal microRNAs (miRNAs) in the cerebrospinal fluid, and these exosomal miRNAs declined during ageing, whereas central treatment with healthy hypothalamic stem/progenitor cell-secreted exosomes led to the slowing of ageing. In conclusion, ageing speed is substantially controlled by hypothalamic stem cells, partially through the release of exosomal miRNAs.”

Reference: Yalin Zhang, Min Soo Kim, Baosen Jia, Jingqi Yan, Juan Pablo Zuniga-Hertz, Cheng Han, Dongsheng Cai. Hypothalamic stem cells control ageing speed partly through exosomal miRNAs. Nature, 2017; DOI: 10.1038/nature23282

Stem Cells Used to Produce New Arterial Cells

Blood Vessels

Stem cell biologists have tried unsuccessfully for years to produce cells that will give rise to functional arteries. Now new techniques developed at the Morgridge Institute for Research and the University of Wisconsin in Madison have produced, for the first time, functional arterial cells at both the quality and scale to be relevant for modeling and clinical application.

Reporting in the July 10 issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists in the lab of stem cell pioneer James Thomson describe methods for generating and characterizing arterial endothelial cells which are the cells that initiate artery development and exhibit many of the specific functions required by the body.

Further, these cells contributed both to new artery formation. ?No one has been able to make those kinds of cells efficiently before,? says Jue Zhang, a Morgridge assistant scientist and lead author. ?The key finding here is a way to make arterial endothelial cells more functional and clinically useful.?

The Thomson lab has made arterial engineering one of its top research priorities. New techniques have produced, for the first time, functional arterial cells at both the quality and scale to be relevant for modeling and clinical application.

The challenge is that generic endothelial cells are relatively easy to create, but they lack true arterial properties and thus have little clinical value, Zhang says.

The research team applied two pioneering technologies to the project. First, they used single-cell RNA sequencing to identify the signaling pathways critical for arterial endothelial cell differentiation. They found about 40 genes of optimal relevance. Second, they used CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology that allowed them to create reporter cell lines to monitor arterial differentiation in real time.

?With this technology, you can test the function of these candidate genes and measure what percentage of cells are generating into our target arterial cells,? says Zhang.

The research group developed a protocol around five key growth factors that make the strongest contributions to arterial cell development. They also identified some very common growth factors used in stem cell science, such as insulin, that surprisingly inhibit arterial endothelial cell differentiation.

?Our ultimate goal is to apply this improved cell derivation process to the formation of functional arteries that can be used in cardiovascular surgery,? says Thomson, director of regenerative biology at Morgridge and a UW?Madison professor of cell and regenerative biology. ?This work provides valuable proof that we can eventually get a reliable source for functional arterial endothelial cells and make arteries that perform and behave like the real thing.?

Thomson?s team, along with many UW?Madison collaborators, is in the first year of a seven-year project supported by the National Institutes of Health on the feasibility of developing artery banks suitable for use in human transplantation.

?Now that we have a method to create these cells, we hope to continue the effort using a more universal donor cell line,? says Zhang. The lab will focus on cells banked from a unique population of people who are genetically compatible donors for a majority of the population.

Reference: Zhang, J., Chu, L., Hou, Z., Schwartz, M. P., Hacker, T., Vickerman, V., Thomson, J. A. (2017). Functional characterization of human pluripotent stem cell-derived arterial endothelial cells. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 201702295. doi:10.1073/pnas.1702295114

Converting Adult Stem Cells and IPS Cells Into Differentiated Cells

Adult Stem Cells

Whether using embryonic or adult stem cells, coercing these master cells to convert to the desired target cell and reproduce flawlessly is difficult. Now an international team of researchers has a two-part system that can convert the cells to the targets and then remove the remnants of that conversion, leaving only the desired DNA behind to duplicate.

“One difficulty with human pluripotent stem cells is that you can’t use them directly,” said Xiaojun Lian, assistant professor of biomechanical engineering, biology and a member of the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, Penn State. They need to be the right type of differentiated cells for each tissue in the body.

Normally, pluripotent stem cells induced from both adult and embryonic cells receive a chemical signal to change from a stem cell to a functional cell. Pluripotent stem cells can change to any cell in the human body. However, this natural cell change is part of a complex series of triggers controlled by DNA. Researchers have in the past inserted DNA into the pluripotent cells to convert them, but remnants of the inserted DNA remain.

In this current work, published in a recent issue of Scientific Reports, the researchers are not incorporating a piece of DNA that will tell the cells to convert, but DNA that will make the cell glow green when illuminated by a blue light. This marker allows the researchers to see that the DNA plasmid is incorporated into the cell, and that it is completely gone upon removal. A plasmid is a circular piece of DNA that contains functional DNA fragments that control gene expression in cells.

“We wanted to explore the limits for turning the conversion on and off and to have the ability to control the level of expression and removal of DNA after conversion,” said Lauren N. Randolph, doctoral student in bioengineering, Penn State.

Previous approaches incorporated the appropriate DNA to switch on the conversions, but did not completely remove all the DNA inserted.

The researchers are using a Tet-On 3G inducible PiggyBac system that is a plasmid they named XLone to achieve insertion, activation and removal. The PiggyBac portion of the system includes the DNA to insert that DNA into the cell’s DNA. The Tet-On 3G portion contains the necessary signaling information. This system also makes the cells more sensitive to doxycycline, which is the drug used to initiate the conversion.

“We are using abundant multiple copies of the plasmid to increase the likelihood that it gets in and does what it is supposed to do and actually follows through reproduction of the cells,” said Lian.

If only one or a few plasmids are inserted into the cell, the new DNA could just be silenced. Insertion of multiple plasmids assures that at least one will function.

“The first advantage with our system is that it does not have any leakage expression,” said Randolph. “If we don’t induce the system with doxycycline, we get nothing.”

The second advantage is that once the cells are reproducing as heart cells or nerve cells, the plasmid can be removed and the cells continue to reproduce without any remnant of the plasmid system.

While the researchers are currently aiming to understand and study gene function and directed cell differentiation in human stem cells, eventually they would like to be able to create cell-based therapies.

Reference: Lauren N. Randolph, Xiaoping Bao, Chikai Zhou, Xiaojun Lian. An all-in-one, Tet-On 3G inducible PiggyBac system for human pluripotent stem cells and derivatives. Scientific Reports, 2017; 7 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-01684-6

Is 70 Years of Age is the New 60?

Fit 70 Year Old

Is 70 the new 60? A new Stony Brook University-led study to be published in PLOS ONE uses new measures of aging to scientifically illustrate that one’s actual age is not necessarily the best measure of human aging itself, but rather aging should be based on the number of years people are likely to live in a given country in the 21st Century.

The study combines the new measures of aging with probabilistic projections from the United Nations and predicts an end to population aging in the U.S. and other countries before the end of the century. Population aging when the median age rises in a country because of increasing life expectancy and lower fertility rates is a concern for countries because of the perception that population aging leads to declining numbers of working age people and additional social burdens.

According to Warren Sanderson, Professor of Economics at Stony Brook University and the lead author, this study’s projections imply that as life expectancies increase people are generally healthier with better cognition at older ages and countries can adjust public policies appropriately as to population aging.

Population aging could peak by 2040 in Germany and by 2070 in China, according to the study, which combines measures of aging with probabilistic population projections from the UN. In the USA, the study shows very little population aging at all in the coming century.

Traditional population projections categorize “old age” as a simple cutoff at age 65. But as life expectancies have increased, so too have the years that people remain healthy, active, and productive. In the last decade, IIASA researchers have published a large body of research showing that the very boundary of “old age” should shift with changes in life expectancy, and have introduced new measures of aging that are based on population characteristics, giving a more comprehensive view of population aging.

The study combines these new measures with UN probabilistic population projections to produce a new set of age structure projections for four countries: China, Germany, Iran, and the USA.

“Both of these demographic techniques are relatively new, and together they give us a very different, and more nuanced picture of what the future of aging might look like,” says Professor Sanderson, also a researcher at IIASA. He wrote the article with Sergei Scherbov, leader of the Re-Aging Project at IIASA, and Patrick Gerland, chief of the mortality section of the Population Division of the United Nations.

One of the measures used in the paper looks at life expectancy as well as years lived to adjust the definition of old age. Probabilistic projections produce a range of thousands of potential scenarios, so that they can show a range of possibilities of aging outcomes.

For China, Germany, and the USA, the study showed that population aging would peak and begin declining well before the end of the century. Iran, which had an extremely rapid fall in fertility rate in the last 20 years, has an unstable age distribution and the results for the country were highly uncertain.

“We chose these four countries for analysis because they have very different population structures and projections, and so they allow us to test this methodology across a range of possible scenarios,” summarizes Scherbov.

Abstract: “We merge two methodologies, prospective measures of population aging and probabilistic population forecasts. We compare the speed of change and variability in forecasts of the old age dependency ratio and the prospective old age dependency ratio as well as the same comparison for the median age and the prospective median age. While conventional measures of population aging are computed on the basis of the number of years people have already lived, prospective measures are computed also taking account of the expected number of years they have left to live. Those remaining life expectancies change over time and differ from place to place. We compare the probabilistic distributions of the conventional and prospective measures using examples from China, Germany, Iran, and the United States. The changes over time and the variability of the prospective indicators are smaller than those that are observed in the conventional ones. A wide variety of new results emerge from the combination of methodologies. For example, for Germany, Iran, and the United States the likelihood that the prospective median age of the population in 2098 will be lower than it is today is close to 100 percent.”

Reference: Warren C. Sanderson, Sergei Scherbov, Patrick Gerland. Probabilistic population aging. PLOS ONE, 2017; 12 (6): e0179171 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0179171