University of Edinburgh researchers have successfully rejuvenated the thymus of a living mouse using genetic manipulation techniques.
The thymus, which is critical for immune function, becomes smaller and less effective with age, making people more susceptible to infection.
Researchers at the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh used a drug to stimulate activity of the Foxn1 gene in elderly mice.
This (and its human gene homologue, FOXN1
) encodes a transcription factor involved in the control of thymus development and immune system regulation. Stimulating the mouse gene successfully created youthful levels of gene expression and led in turn to increased size and activity of the thymus, akin to that observable in a much younger mouse.
Dr Nick Bredenkamp said that the same technique could be viable in humans, but would need to be subject to very precise control to prevent harmful autoimmune reactions. It could be useful for humans with impaired thymus or immune functions, such as those with genetic disorders that affect normal thymus development.
Whilst no more than a proof-of-principle at this stage and far from application in humans, this result is nevertheless the first example of stimulating rejuvenation of a living tissue.
Medical Research Council head of regenerative medicine Dr Rob Buckle said: "One of the key goals in regenerative medicine is harnessing the body's own repair mechanisms and manipulating these in a controlled way to treat disease…This interesting study suggests that organ regeneration in a mammal can be directed by manipulation of a single protein, which is likely to have broad implications for other areas of regenerative biology".