Uncovering How Shape-Shifting Mitochondria Affect Stem Cells
Muscle degeneration is a leading cause of disability worldwide. Both aging and diseases—such as muscular dystrophies, myopathies and neuromuscular disorders—can cause muscle stem cells to decline in number and function. As a result, patients experience muscle loss compounded by an inability to regenerate the lost tissue.
So far, the underlying reasons for muscle wasting are unclear. But recent work by Dr. Mireille Khacho, Canada Research Chair in Mitochondrial Dynamics and Regenerative Medicine, suggests that mitochondria play a role in how stem cells function by impairing their longevity and capacity to regenerate. Mitochondria are small components inside cells that produce energy. Muscle cells have large numbers of them.
Although the link between mitochondrial dysfunction and muscle degenerative disorders is understood, exactly how muscle stem cell function and tissue regeneration are affected is not. In fact, Khacho’s research was the first to identify mitochondria as the principle signalling centres that regulate stem cell self-renewal. Based on these findings, Khacho proposes that mitochondria also play a leading role in muscle stem cell function and muscle regeneration.
She and her research team aim to shed light on the mechanisms mitochondria use to control muscle stem cells’ longevity in both normal and disease states. They are also trying to establish treatments that can help regenerate muscle in aging patients as well as those with degenerative disorders.