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New technique may allow scientists to reverse muscle loss due to disease or aging

Researchers at UC Berkeley have developed a new approach to reprogram muscle tissue to an earlier stage of development, which could yield future treatments for degenerative diseases such as muscular dystrophy or aging.

Their findings (subscription required) were recently published online in Chemistry & Biology. A Press Association story describes the study:

US researchers used molecular signals to separate mature muscle tissue into individual "progenitor" cells called myoblasts. These were then successfully used to repair the damaged muscles of injured mice.

...Crucially, the technique does not rely on the creation of "pluripotent" stem cells - immature cells that can differentiate into virtually any kind of tissue. Previous attempts to regenerate muscle using pluripotent embryonic stem cells or reprogrammed adult cells have led to uncontrolled growth and tumours.

To confirm the myoblasts produced by the treatment were de-differentiated from mature muscle tissue rather than activated from the few satellite cells that accompany myofibers, researchers genetically labeled the fused myofibers with a protein that emits green fluorescent light. This allowed them to prove that any resulting myoblasts that glowed green, which are shown in the image above, could have only come from the differentiated myofiber.

Next, researchers plan to test the process in human muscle tissue and screen for other molecular compounds that may help de-differentiate mature tissue.

Photo by Preeti Paliwal, UC Berkeley

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