A team of researchers at the University of Cambridge have recently discovered that aging may be related to the increasing “stiffness” in older brains. This brain stiffness can cause brain stem cell dysfunction.
The research findings, which were published in Nature, have far reaching implications for both our deeper understanding of the process of aging and possible future treatments to slow the debilitating effects.
“The study tells us that aging, at least for stem cells we studied, is not driven by anything intrinsic to the cell. It is instead driven by the environment. This was already known to be a factor, but the true significance here is to show that it is the stiffness of the environment alone that drives the aging of the stem cells.” – Kevin Chalut, Biophysicist, University of Cambridge
We’re all aware of how stiff our joints can become with age and now it seems we’re seeing the same with our brains – they also become stiff with age.
The research team at the Wellcome-MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute (University of Cambridge), endeavored to study exactly how the stiffening of older brain affected the oligodendrocyte progenitor cells or OPCs. These cells in particular are crucial for maintaining normal brain function and have been shown to decline with age.
The approach was to transplant older, stiffening OPCs from aged rats into the softer, spongier brains of younger rats. Once transplanted, the older stiff cells remarkably began to show signs of age reversal and began to function like the younger brain cells they were sharing space with.
“We were fascinated to see that when we grew young, functioning rat brain stem cells on the stiff material, the cells became dysfunctional and lost their ability to regenerate, and in fact began to function like aged cells. What was especially interesting, however, was that when the old brain cells were grown on the soft material, they began to function like young cells — in other words, they were rejuvenated.” – Dr. Kevin Chalut
While the research so far is extremely promising, Chalut has stressed that their testing has only taken place in one stem cell system in rodents – it may not be the same with human brain stem cells.
As new information comes out on this study, Dooiitt will be updating this article accordingly.