As we advance in age, hair loss and the development of skin wrinkles are things we all begin to experience. These signs of aging are largely responsible by drop of mitochondrial function within cells.
Mitochondria are key cellular structures that produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is responsible for maintaining healthy cellular function. When mitochondria can no longer work effectively, this can have detrimental significances.
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Mitochondrial dysfunction can also cause many chronic diseases, apart from leading to the wrinkling of skin and hair loss.
Keshav Singh from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and team of researchers in a new study, have been experimenting with ways of reversing a DNA change that leads to mitochondrial dysfunctions.
The researchers, in a paper now published in the journal Cell Death & Disease, reported that in working with a mouse model, they were successfully able to restore mitochondrial function, thereby reversing the wrinkles and hair loss observed in the rodents.
“To our knowledge, this observation is unparalleled,” says Singh.
Singh and colleagues explain that changes in mitochondrial function is as a result of mutation that occurs in a nuclear gene (nuclear gene is a type of gene found in the nucleus of cells). It leads to a depletion of mitochondrial DNA.
The scientists used doxycycline to induce this mutation in the mouse model. Doxycycline is an antibiotic that they added to the rodents’ food and water. After receiving this treatment, the mice began to show signs consistent with those observed in aging within just 4 weeks from its commencement.
Soon, their hair turned gray, they experienced hair loss, and they grew more lethargic. The rodents began to show wrinkled skin within 4–8 weeks of the treatment, this affected the females more harshly than it did the males.
The wrinkled skin revealed the kind of changes that are observed due to both intrinsic aging and extrinsic (external) stress that produces skin damage. Changes consistent with extrinsic aging included too many skin cells, thickening of the outmost layer of the skin, unhealthy hair follicles, and increased inflammation.
Also, the team noted that the mice had an altered expression of matrix metalloproteinases, which are enzymes that help support the collagen fibers that prevent the wrinkling of skin tissue.
Can this mutation be reversed?
After inducing the genetic mutation, the research team observed few shifts in the tissue of other organs which they believe, suggests that mitochondria play a vital role in the health of skin tissue versus other kinds of tissue.
The scientists discovered that they were able to reverse these changes in the mice by switching off the genetic mutation they had at first induced.
Within a month after stopping the doxycycline treatment, the mitochondrial DNA was starting to replenish, and the mice regained their hair — in its original color — and their wrinkles were smoothened out.
Singh says, this suggests that mitochondrial function may be a reversible factor tied to the aging of skin and hair which according to him, is a “surprising” discovery.
“It suggests that epigenetic mechanisms underlying mitochondria-to-nucleus cross-talk must play an important role in the restoration of normal skin and hair phenotype,” explains Singh.
The researchers hope that further studies will be help them explain whether similar procedures could, in the future, be used to reverse symptoms of aging in other types of tissue.