Old Human Cells Rejuvenated in Breakthrough Discovery on Ageing

Source: University of Exeter

Summary: Researchers have discovered a new way to rejuvenate old cells in the lab, making them not only look younger but also behave more like young cells.

Ageing is the process of becoming older. As we age, our bodies accumulate senescent cells (old cells) that are alive but do not grow and function as they should. They lose their ability in regulating their gene output. This is the main reason why our bodies become more susceptible to diseases as we grow older. When genes are activated they make a message and send some instructions for the cell to behave in a certain way. Researchers at the University of Exeter have discovered a new way to rejuvenate senescent cells in the laboratory, making them not only look younger but also behave more like young cells. Normally, a class of genes called splicing factors are switched off progressively as we age but the research team has found that these splicing factors can be switched back on with chemicals making old cells look younger and develop the ability to divide. The findings were published in the journal BMC Cell Biology.

Senescent cells can be activated with resveratrol analogues

A. 92-hour time capture image from NHDF cells treated with DMSO B. 92-hour time capture image showing NHDF cells treated with resveratrol. Senescent cells marked with an arrow; Mitotic foci are circled. Credit: University of Exeter

For genes to perform to their full potential, splicing factors are very crucial. One gene can send many messages to the body to perform a function – such as a decision to grow new blood vessels or not and this, in turn, depends on the splicing factors which take the decision about which message to make. On ageing, these splicing factors work less efficiently or not at all which restricts the ability of cells to respond to their environment. Also, senescent cells found in the organs of older people have fewer splicing factors. The researchers applied resveratrol analogues – chemicals based on a substance which is naturally found in red wine, dark chocolate, red grapes and blueberries to the senescent cells in the culture. They observed the splicing factors which are progressively switched off were switched back on. Within hours, the cells looked younger, rejuvenated and ready to divide into young cells.

The discovery has the potential to guide to new therapies which can help people age healthily without experiencing degenerative effects of getting old.

Dr. Eva Latorre, Research Associate said, “When I saw some of the cells in the culture dish rejuvenating I couldn’t believe it. These old cells were looking like young cells. It was like magic”, “I repeated the experiments several times and in each case the cells rejuvenated. I am very excited by the implications and potential for this research.”

Prof. Richard Faragher said, “Our discovery of cell rejuvenation using these simple compounds shows the enormous potential of ageing research to improve the lives of older people.”

More Information: Eva Latorre et al, “Small molecule modulation of splicing factor expression is associated with rescue from cellular senescence”, BMC Cell Biology (2017). DOI: 10.1186/s12860-017-0147-7

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