Stem Cells: As We Age

 

There is increasing evidence that the aging process can have adverse effects on stem cells. As stem cells age, their renewal ability deteriorates and their ability to differentiate into the various cell types is altered. Accordingly, it is suggested aging-induced deterioration of stem cell functions may play a key role in the pathophysiology of the various aging-associated disorders. Understanding the role of the aging process in deterioration of stem cell function is crucial, not only in understanding the pathophysiology of aging-associated disorders but also in the future development of effective stem cell-based therapies to treat aging-associated diseases.

Adult stem cells, also known as somatic stem cells, are found throughout the body in every tissues and organ after development and function as self-renewing cell pools to replenish dying cells and regenerate damaged tissues throughout life. However, adult stem cells appear to age with the person. As stem cells age, their functional ability also deteriorates. Specifically, this regenerative power appears to decline with age, as injuries in older individuals heal more slowly than in childhood. For example, healing of a fractured bone takes much longer time in elderly than in young individuals. There is a substantial amount of evidence showing that the deterioration of adult stem cells in the adult phase can become an important player in the initiation of several diseases in aging.

 

Mechanism’s for Functional Deterioration of Stem Cells in Aging:

 

Microenvironment

Aging is characterized by common environmental conditions, such as hormonal, immunologic, and metabolic disorders and these are considered as the critical microenvironmental factors affecting stem cell functions.

DNA damage and telomere shortening

In mammals, spontaneous and extrinsic mutational events occur on DNA on daily basis. While most of the damaged DNAs are repaired by normal DNA repair mechanism, some of the mutated DNAs appear to escape from the repair mechanism and accumulate over time.

Mitochondrial dysfunction

Mitochondria are ubiquitous intracellular organelles in mammals and are the main source of cellular adenosine triphosphate (ATP) that plays a central role in a variety of cellular processes.

Epigenetic alteration

Epigenetics refers to changes in gene expression, which are heritable through modifications without affecting the DNA sequence. It has also been defined more broadly as the dynamic regulation of gene expression by sequence-independent mechanisms, including but not limited to changes in DNA methylation and histone modifications.

 

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