A University of Colorado at Boulder-led study shows that specific types of stem cells transplanted into the leg muscles of mice prevented the loss of muscle function and mass that normally occurs with aging, a finding with potential uses in treating humans with chronic, degenerative muscle diseases.
The experiments showed that when young host mice with limb muscle injuries were injected with muscle stem cells from young donor mice, the cells not only repaired the injury within days, they caused the treated muscle to double in mass and sustain itself through the lifetime of the transplanted mice.
Muscle stem cells are found within populations of “satellite” cells located between muscle fibers and surrounding connective tissue and are responsible for the repair and maintenance of skeletal muscles, said Olwin. The researchers transplanted between 10 and 50 stem cells along with attached myofibers — which are individual skeletal muscle cells — from the donor mice into the host mice.
“We found that the transplanted stem cells are permanently altered and reduce the aging of the transplanted muscle, maintaining strength and mass,” said Olwin.
Olwin said the new findings, while intriguing, are only the first in discovering how such research might someday be applicable to human health. “With further research we may one day be able to greatly resist the loss of muscle mass, size and strength in humans that accompanies aging, as well as chronic degenerative diseases like muscular dystrophy.”
The research has implications for a number of human diseases, Olwin said. In muscular dystrophy, for example, there is a loss of a protein called dystrophin that causes the muscle to literally tear itself apart and cannot be repaired without cell-based intervention. Although injected cells will repair the muscle fibers, maintaining the muscle fibers requires additional cell injections, he said.
“Progressive muscle loss occurs in a number of neuromuscular diseases and in muscular dystrophies,” he said. “Augmenting a patient’s muscle regenerative process could have a significant impact on aging and diseases, improving the quality of life and possibly improving mobility.”
Olwin said the research team is beginning experiments to see if transplanting muscle stem cells from humans or large animals into mice will have the same effects as those observed in the recent mouse experiments. “If those experiments produce positive results, it would suggest that transplanting human muscle stem cells is feasible,” he said