As we age, the human body faces numerous challenges, including a decline in immune system function and increased vulnerability to various health problems, such as infections and the appearance of tumors. The aging process is often accompanied by a decline in proper functioning of the hematopoietic and immune systems, making older adults more susceptible to infections, blood diseases and even the development of tumors or some forms of autoimmunity. A groundbreaking study recently shed light on these challenges and revealed a potential solution that could have far-reaching implications for aging individuals.
The study published on 31 August 2023 in the journal Nature Aging, conducted by Dr. Nicola Vannini, group leader of the UNIL-CHUV Oncology Department of Lausanne (CH) and member of the Lausanne branch of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, was focused on hematopoietic stem cells (HSC). These cells are responsible for generating various types of blood cells, playing a vital role in maintaining a healthy immune system. As we age, HSCs experience a decline in their ability to regenerate blood and show a preference for a specific type of cell line, which contributes to immune system dysfunction.
However, researchers have discovered an extraordinary solution. By introducing a natural compound called Urolithin A, which targets mitochondria – the powerhouses of cells – they were able to reverse the decline in HSC function. Mitochondria abnormalities have been identified as a factor contributing to HSC aging. Urolithin A acted as a mitochondrial modulator, effectively restoring mitochondrial function within stem cells. Urolithins are not found in foods; however, their precursors are. Urolithin A is the result of the transformation of ellagic acids and ellagitannins by the intestinal microflora in humans.
Ellagitannins are found in foods such as pomegranates, nuts and some berries. The most interesting finding of this preclinical study was that this intervention not only rejuvenated the blood-replenishing ability of older HSCs but also improved immune system function in aged mice. When Urolithin A was incorporated as a dietary supplement, it not only revitalized the lymphoid compartments of the immune system, but also improved the overall performance of HSCs. This resulted in an improved immune response against viral infections, demonstrating the potential of Urolithin A in combating age-related decline in the immune system.
Without going into the molecular details of the publication, this groundbreaking research indicates that by encouraging the recycling of mitochondria using Urolithin A, it is possible to reverse the aging process within the hematopoietic and immune systems. These findings hold enormous promise for the development of interventions aimed at addressing age-related health conditions in older individuals and pave the way for anticipated clinical trials.
- Edited by Dr. Gianfrancesco Cormaci, PhD, specialista in Clinical Biochemistry.
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