As we age, so does our blood, but this type of aging is also associated with increased risk for blood disorders, such as blood cancers and infections. A new study may have found a way to “slow down the clock” for blood aging by uncovering a previously unknown role for autophagy, a type of cellular clean-up process. This could lead to future therapies that may help restore “tired” blood cells to a younger state, therefore promoting overall health.
The study, now published online in Nature, has found that the process of autophagy, in addition to cleaning up old cell waste, also plays a vital role in the formation of hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs). These are the adult stem cells that create red blood cells. The team found that when cells do not undergo autophagy, their blood cells displayed dysfunction associated with aging.
Study results showed that when the blood of old mice underwent autophagy, their cells both looked and acted like blood cells in much younger mice. On the other hand, young mice who were genetically altered so that they did not undergo autophagy displayed many characteristics of old mice blood.
“This discovery might provide an interesting therapeutic angle to use in re-activating autophagy in all of the old HSCs, to slow the aging of the blood system and to improve engraftment during bone marrow or HSC transplantation," Emmanuelle Passegué, senior study author, said in a recent statement from the University of California San Francisco.
Autophagy is a natural process by which cells are destroyed and their parts are used for the formation of new cells, News Medical reports. This process enable the “building blocks” for continuous cell survival, and maintain homeostasis inside of the body. In addition, failure to activate autophagy has adverse affects on our health, particularly in our blood. The discovery of this process is relatively knew, and its discovery last year won Tokyo-based cell biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Science in 2016.
According to the researchers, the ultimate goal of their research is to use these findings to improve fitness of elderly blood which would not only strengthen their immune systems, but also prevent the development of blood cancers.
Source: HI TT, Warr MR, Adelman ER. Autophagy maintains the metabolism and function of young and old stem cells. Nature . 2017