Old Muscles Made New Again

By Amir Khan on September 30, 2012 8:31 AM EDT

As you age, so do your muscles, which begin to weaken and break down. But now, researchers may have found a way to reverse that aging using a common drug, which could one day lead to increased mobility and less falls as you age, according to a new study, published in the journal Nature.

Researchers looked at stem cells found in mice to find out why muscle regeneration declines with age. They found that muscles contain reservoirs of stem cells that are ready to heal muscle as needed. However, the pool becomes depleted as the mice aged, which could explain why healing becomes more difficult, researchers said.

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The team found high levels of a protein known as FG2, which stimulates cells to divide, in the stem cells, which could stimulate the use of the "pool" unnecessarily. Researchers found that by inhibiting the protein, they could control when it was released, inhibiting the decline in healing ability.

"Preventing or reversing muscle wasting in old age in humans is still a way off, but this study has for the first time revealed a process which could be responsible for age-related muscle wasting, which is extremely exciting," Dr. Albert Basson, Senior Lecturer at the King's College London Dental Institute, said in a statement. "The finding opens up the possibility that one day we could develop treatments to make old muscles young again. If we could do this, we may be able to enable people to live more mobile, independent lives as they age."

The findings could one day lead to better healing and slower decline in humans, researchers said. However, it will take a lot more research.

"We do not yet know how or why levels of the protein FGF2 increase with age, triggering stem cells to be activated when they are not needed," Kieran Jones, co-author of the study, said in a statement. "This is something that needs to be explored. The next step is to analyse old muscle in humans to see if the same mechanism could be responsible for stem cell depletion in human muscle fibres, leading to loss of mass and wastage."

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