Stem Cell Exhaustion

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As we age, our stem cells eventually lose their ability to divide. Furthermore, we are unable to replace the stem cells that have migrated, differentiated, or died. As a result, we show outward symbols of aging, such as grey hair.

While the decrease in the renewal of stem cells certainly leads to age-related disorders, it is clear that this “stem cell exhaustion” is really a consequence of DNA damage, deregulated nutrient sensing, senescence, and other processes already mentioned—in other words, it might be argued that it is not a “true” hallmark. Nevertheless, because of their unique role in determining cell fate in a tissue-specific way, stem cells can reveal ways that tissues interact during the aging of a complex organism and possibly redirect the fate of aging tissues upon transplantation.


Aged Stem Cell
(Click image to enlarge.)

Hallmarks of aging affect aging stem cells. Adapted from Oh J, Lee YD, Wagers AJ. Stem cell aging: mechanisms, regulators and therapeutic opportunities. Nat Med. 2014 Aug;20(8):870-80.

Recent studies have asked how environmental, genetic and microenvironmental factors all work together to affect stem cell fate. “Youthful” signals (like microRNAs) can apparently be delivered to aging stem cells via extracellular vesicles — could these vesicles serve as anti-aging therapeutics?

It’s also clear that diet and metabolic signaling also affects stem cells, as do signals from the microbiome. The discovery of Toll-like receptors on intestinal stem cells points to a paradigm in which our aging is determined not only by what we eat and breathe, but also the bacteria we carry.
Did you know?
Grey hair are the result of depletion of stem cells in the hair follicles. Interestingly, it has been found that the loss of melanocyte stem cells from hair follicles also results from stress.


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Hallmarks of Aging
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