A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed that vitamins A and C have the potential to rewrite the epigenetic "memory" in cells, or markers that indicate what type of cell it is. The discovery may have applications in the field of regenerative medicine, which seeks, in part, to replace damaged cells, such as brain, lung, or blood, with healthy cells, according to the Mayo Clinic.

A team of researchers from the United Kingdom, Germany, and New Zealand found that vitamins A and C both influence a process, called demethylation, that helps wipe a cell's memory. Demethylation starts with a cell’s identity, which is established by epigenetic changes to the DNA. A crucial part in wiping a cell’s memory (and inducing the cell to become a stem cell) includes removing the methyl tags from the DNA, a process called demethylation, according to a press release.

Researchers found these results by increasing the amount of a certain enzyme in the cell, which removed more methyl tags from the DNA sequence. The team also found that vitamin C boosted activity within the same enzymes. These adjustments are both required for cell “reprogramming,” according to Dr Ferdinand von Meyenn, co-first author on the study.

The new findings have the potential to change regenerative medicine and scientists' ability to modify a cell’s identity, a press release from the U.K.-based Babraham Institute reported.

“This research provides an important understanding in order to progress the development of cell treatments for regenerative medicine. It also enhances our understanding of how intrinsic and extrinsic signals shape the epigenome; knowledge that could provide valuable insight into human disease, such as acute promyelocytic leukaemia and other cancers,” researcher Wolf Reik said, according to the press release. “Putting the full picture together will allow us to understand the full complexity of the epigenetic control of the genome.”

Source: Hore TA, von Meyenn F, Bachman M, Oxley D, Santos M, et al. Retinol And Ascorbate Drive Erasure Of Epigenetic Memory And Enhance Reprogramming To Naïve Pluripotency By Complementary Mechanisms. PNAS. 2016.

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