Thursday, April 26, 2018 - 11:48am

Extraordinary new research on stem cells in our muscles that affects people at every age:

Muscle aches and pains, whether from stretching, strenuous exercise or just normal wear and tear, can put a crimp in your day, a limp in your step and be an actual pain in the neck. But no matter the severity, stem cells in the skeletal muscles called satellite cells play a key role in repairing the damage.

Without a proper function of satellite cells, as seen in many aged people, muscles are not able to repair damaged parts and can quickly deteriorate, which will eventually cause muscle weakness and fibrosis.

Satellite cells have two states: they either “lurk” or start to turn into muscle. Now, University of Georgia researchers in the Center for Molecular Medicine have found a technology that can control the switch between these two states of satellite cells.

In a healthy muscle, most satellite cells are static non-proliferative cells, lurking and without any overt act. However, when a muscle is damaged, satellite cells start to replicate themselves (proliferation) and turn into muscle cells (differentiation).

“When a muscle is damaged, we can use this technology to turn more satellite cells into muscle cells, which greatly accelerates the muscle repair,” said Hang Yin, assistant professor in the UGA Franklin College of Arts and Sciences department of biochemistry and molecular biology.

For athletes or soldiers in the field, accelerated muscle repair means better recovery of performance and faster deployment; for soldiers or civilians with significant muscle loss, improving satellite cell differentiation may help in the total regeneration of the lost muscle tissue.

Beyond even the importance of muscle repair and regeneration, this technology also has potential applications related to agriculture. We didn't touch on this in the release, however the meat in our food is mostly of animal skeletal muscles. With a small number of satellite cells that can only be observed under a microscope, scientists have cultured edible meat out of a Petri dish. The future possibilities are many, but even as of now, satellite cell biology can help to improve the meat quality. Great work by Dr. Yin and colleagues bringing this new technology to light.

Image: Microscopy of regenerative muscle, courtesy of Hang Yin.