Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Researchers rejuvenate stem cell population from elderly mice, enabling muscle recovery

Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have pinpointed why normal aging is accompanied by a diminished ability to regain strength and mobility after muscle injury: Over time, stem cells within muscle tissues dedicated to repairing damage become less able to generate new muscle fibers and struggle to self-renew.

"In the past, it's been thought that muscle stem cells themselves don't change with age, and that any loss of function is primarily due to external factors in the cells' environment," said Helen Blau, PhD, the Donald and Delia B. Baxter Foundation Professor.

"However, when we isolated stem cells from older mice, we found that they exhibit profound changes with age. In fact, two-thirds of the cells are dysfunctional when compared to those from younger mice, and the defect persists even when transplanted into young muscles."

Blau and her colleagues also identified for the first time a process by which the older muscle stem cell populations can be rejuvenated to function like younger cells. "Our findings identify a defect inherent to old muscle stem cells," she said. "Most exciting is that we also discovered a way to overcome the defect. As a result, we have a new therapeutic target that could one day be used to help elderly human patients repair muscle damage."

Blau, a professor of microbiology and immunology and director of Stanford's Baxter Laboratory for Stem Cell Biology, is the senior author of a paper describing the research, which will be published online Feb. 16 in Nature Medicine. Postdoctoral scholar Benjamin Cosgrove, PhD, and former postdoctoral scholar Penney Gilbert, PhD, now an assistant professor at the University of Toronto, are the lead authors.

The researchers found that many muscle stem cells isolated from mice that were 2 years old, equivalent to about 80 years of human life, exhibited elevated levels of activity in a biological cascade called the p38 MAP kinase pathway. This pathway impedes the proliferation of the stem cells and encourages them to instead become non-stem, muscle progenitor cells. As a result, although many of the old stem cells divide in a dish, the resulting colonies are very small and do not contain many stem cells.

Using a drug to block this p38 MAP kinase pathway in old stem cells (while also growing them on a specialized matrix called hydrogel) allowed them to divide rapidly in the laboratory and make a large number of potent new stem cells that can robustly repair muscle damage, Blau said.

"Aging is a stochastic but cumulative process," Cosgrove said. "We've now shown that muscle stem cells progressively lose their stem cell function during aging. This treatment does not turn the clock back on dysfunctional stem cells in the aged population. Rather, it stimulates stem cells from old muscle tissues that are still functional to begin dividing and self-renew."

The researchers found that, when transplanted back into the animal, the treated stem cells migrate to their natural niches and provide a long-lasting stem cell reserve to contribute to repeated demands for muscle repair.

"In mice, we can take cells from an old animal, treat them for seven days — during which time their numbers expand dramatically, as much as 60-fold — and then return them to injured muscles in old animals to facilitate their repair," Blau said.

In 2010, Blau's laboratory published a study in Science showing that muscle stem cells grown on soft hydrogel maintain their "stemness" in culture. In contrast, muscle stem cells grown on hard plastic tissue culture plates, the standard way to cultivate cells in the laboratory, quickly differentiate into more-specialized, but less therapeutically useful, muscle progenitor cells. The difference is likely due to the fact that soft hydrogel is more similar than rigid plastic to the muscle tissue environment in which the stem cells are naturally found.

In the current study, the researchers found that targeting the p38 MAP kinase to induce the rapid expansion of the remaining functional stem cells from old mice required the soft hydrogel substrate. "The drug plus hydrogel boosts the small clones so that they undergo a burst of self-renewing divisions," Gilbert said. Thus, rejuvenation of the population is contingent on the synergy between biophysical and biochemical cues.

Finally, the researchers tested the ability of the rejuvenated old muscle stem cell population to repair muscle injury and restore strength in 2-year-old recipient mice. They teamed up with co-author Scott Delp, PhD, the James H. Clark Professor in the School of Engineering, who has designed a novel way to measure muscle strength in animals that had muscle injuries and then underwent the stem cell therapy.

"We were able to show that transplantation of the old treated muscle stem cell population repaired the damage and restored strength to injured muscles of old mice," Cosgrove said. "Two months after transplantation, these muscles exhibited forces equivalent to young, uninjured muscles. This was the most encouraging finding of all."

The researchers plan to continue their research to learn whether this technique could be used in humans. "If we could isolate the stem cells from an elderly person, expose them in culture to the proper conditions to rejuvenate them and transfer them back into a site of muscle injury, we may be able to use the person's own cells to aid recovery from trauma or to prevent localized muscle atrophy and weakness due to broken bones," Blau said. "This really opens a whole new avenue to enhance the repair of specific muscles in the elderly, especially after an injury. Our data pave the way for such a stem cell therapy."

Other Stanford authors of the study include postdoctoral scholar Ermelinda Porpiglia, PhD; instructor Foteini Mourkioti, PhD; undergraduate student Steven Lee; senior research scientist Stephane Corbel, PhD; and medical resident Michael Llewellyn, MD, PhD.

The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health (grants R25CA118681, K99AG042491, T32CA009151, K99AR061465, U01HL100397, U01HL099997, R01AG020961, R01HL096113 and R01AG009521), the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine and the Baxter Foundation.

Information about Stanford's Department of Microbiology and Immunology, which also supported the work, is available at

The Stanford University School of Medicine consistently ranks among the nation's top medical schools, integrating research, medical education, patient care and community service. For more news about the school, please visit The medical school is part of Stanford Medicine, which includes Stanford Hospital & Clinics and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital. For information about all three, please visit

Print media contact: Krista Conger at (650) 725-5371 (
Broadcast media contact: Margarita Gallardo at (650) 723-7897 (

Krista Conger | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Health and Medicine:

nachricht Inflammation Triggers Unsustainable Immune Response to Chronic Viral Infection
24.10.2016 | Universität Basel

nachricht Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia
21.10.2016 | Universitätsklinikum Magdeburg

All articles from Health and Medicine >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Oasis of life in the ice-covered central Arctic

24.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

‘Farming’ bacteria to boost growth in the oceans

24.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

24.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

More VideoLinks >>>