Scientists have found what may amount to a “fountain of youth” for adult stem cells. The discovery could have implications in reducing age-related illness from infections.
As people age, they find they can’t do all the things they used to be able to do—can’t move as fast, can’t remember as much or see as well. In a way, the same is true for adult stem cells, said OMRF scientist Paul Kincade, Ph.D.
In mice with a simulated chronic infection, which requires stem cells to create an excess of immune cells, the stem cells begin to lose their potency, he said. The same thing happens in stem cells taken from older mice.
Kincade, who holds the William H. and Rita Bell Chair in Biomedical Research at OMRF, worked with researchers Takafumi Yokota, Ph.D., and Yusuke Satoh, M.D., Ph.D., of the Osaka University Graduate School of Medicine in Japan. They found the protein Satb1 was reduced in older stem cells, preventing them from replenishing the immune system.
But when scientists manipulated the adult stem cells to make more of the protein, it restored much of the cells’ ability to create lymphocytes—the soldiers of the immune system.
The research was recently published in the journal Immunity.
“As stem cells age, their ability to make lymphocytes is diminished,” said Kincade. “That compromises the body’s ability to fight infections and could explain why older patients have so much more trouble fighting common illnesses.”
This process, which has only been studied in mice so far, might be the key to replenishing stem cells and could extend lifespans.
Kincade’s research was funded by grants AI020069 from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and HL107138-03 from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health.