Embryonic Gene ‘Nanog’ May Boost Adult Stem Cells and Reduce Aging Muscle Decline

Woman's portrait isolated on white, 20,60 years old.

The aging body undergoes various changes and aging-related disorders, from osteoporosis to muscle weakness to atherosclerosis or even conditions like Alzheimer’s.

New findings from the University at Buffalo suggests that the embryonic gene Nanog, when applied to adult stem cells, may be able to slow or counteract at least some of these effects.

Quick Primer: Adult Stem Cells

A stem cell is sort of a ‘proto-cell’ in the sense that it hasn’t yet developed into a specific role. Although commonly associated with fetal development, stem cells also play an important, albeit slightly different, role after birth.

These “adult stem cells” are held in reserve by the body and are used to regenerate organs and tissue in event of things like injury or volume loss. However, adult stem cells gradually weaken during the aging process and lose the ability to effectively carry out this task. Unable to replace lost cells as effectively, the body becomes more vulnerable to things like osteoporosis and the like.

Nanog Agog

This is where the embryonic gene Nanog comes in. The researchers introduced Nanog to groups of aging stem cells. They found that the gene opens up pathways in the cells that jumpstarts production of the protein (actin) which is used when adult stem cells turn into muscle cells.

This effect was seen when the cells were taken from elderly donors, when the cells were artificially aged in a Petri dish, and even when the cells were from sufferers of Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome, a rare disease that causes premature aging.

Most of the research for embryonic gene Nanog involves applications for reducing the impact of aging on smooth muscle cells—the type that makes up tissue found in the arteries, intestines, and so forth.

Although the effects of Nanog on other types of adult stem cells are not known at this time, it was observed that the gene affected response factors that suggest it may be useful for skeletal and cardiac applications.

The researchers have since moved on to finding drugs that can replicate the effects of Nanog, which would allow for therapeutic trials and the ability to start exploring clinical applications.

Nealon, C., “Embyronic gene Nanog reverses aging in adult stem cells,” University at Buffalo web site, July 25, 2016; http://www.buffalo.edu/news/releases/2016/07/023.html, last accessed July 28, 2016.

Mistriotis, P., et. al., “NANOG Reverse the Myogenic Differentiation Potential of Senescent Stem Cells by Restoring ACTIN Filamentous Organization and SRF-Dependent Gene Expression,” Stem Cells, 2016; 10.1002/stem.2452.