As we age brain stiffness increases which leads to stem cell dysfunction. New research has demonstrated new ways to reverse this aging process in older stem cells into a younger and healthier state. The results may provide immense implications for understanding the aging process and how new much needed treatments can be developed for brain diseases that are related to aging.
Muscles and joints become stiff as our bodies age which makes movements much more difficult. The study indicates the same is true of the brain. Brain stiffening leads to significant impact on how brain stem cells function.
The multi disciplinary study team which was based at the Wellcome MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute, observed both old and young rats to help understand how brain stiffening due to age impacts the function of oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (OPCs). These type of cells are one of the types of brain stem cells which are important to maintaining normal function of the brain. They are also involved in the regeneration of myelin, the fatty sheath which surrounds our nerves and is damaged in multiple sclerosis.
MS affects over 100,000 in the UK, but the affects of age on these cells also declines as healthy people age.
To see whether the function loss in aged OPCs was reversible, the team transplanted older OPCs from the aged rates into the spongy, soft brains of the younger rats. Surprisingly, the older brain cells were rejuvenated and they started to behave similar to the younger, more rigorous cells.
The team them sought to understand how brain stiffness and softness influences the behavior of cells. They investigated Pierzo1 which is a protein found on the surface of the cell and informs the cells whether the environment surrounding it is stiff or soft.
The team was fascinated to see that when they grew young, functioning rat brain stem cells on the stiff material, the cells then became dysfunctional and then lost the ability to regenerate. They actually began to look like older cells. When the older brain cells were grown on the material that was soft they started to function similar to young cells.
When the team removed Piezo1 from the surface of the older brain stem cells, they were able to trick those cells into perceiving a soft surrounding environment even when they were grown on the stiffer material. They were able to delete Piezo1 in the OPCs in the older rat brains which then led the cells to become more rejuvenated and again they were able to assume their normal function of regeneration.
MS is a painful, disabling and relentless disease. Treatments that can prevent or slow the accumulation of disability over time are needed. The study teams research on how brain stem cells age and how the process could be reserved has important implications for treatments in the future.
To view the original scientific study click below