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Scientists discover molecule that helps grow stronger and bigger muscles

Over the years, scientists have embarked on anti-aging research to provide drugs and treatments that can slow or reverse aging and treat age-related diseases. Now, scientists at Stanford University have discovered an aging-related protein that can stimulate growth of stronger and larger muscles.

15-PGDH protein helps grow muscles

The 15-PGDH protein is the latest discovery by the Stanford scientists, who are working on possible treatments for diminished strength and paralysis due to trauma, heritable neuromuscular diseases, or aging.

Using a mouse model, the researchers injected a 15-PGDH-blocking molecule in older mice. They followed the simulated injuries to the sciatic nerves of the injected mice with treatments. 

This led to more prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) production, followed by the growth of stronger and larger muscle fibers in the mice.

What the researchers learned

By inhibiting the 15-PGDH, also known as “gerozyme,” the researchers significantly improved the endurance and strength of the muscles grown in the lab.

“The researchers found that 15-prostaglandin dehydrogenase (15-PGDH), which accumulates with age and promotes muscle atrophy, markedly increased in denervated mouse myofibers and aggregated in target fibers, hallmarks of chronic nerve damage in human myogenic neuropathies,” noted Melissa L. Norton, the editor of the published study.

Study implications

Treating older mice with chronic muscle denervation with the 15-PGDH inhibitor enhanced the motor neurons and rejuvenated the neuromuscular junctions and function.

This could potentially help older adults who experience increasingly weaker muscles with age and people dealing with muscle-wasting diseases like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

“Our data suggests that inhibition of 15-PGDH may constitute a therapeutic strategy to physiologically boost prostaglandin E2, restore neuromuscular connectivity, and promote recovery of strength after acute or chronic denervation due to injury, disease or aging,” the researchers noted in their report.

Scientists are excited

Although this latest study expands on existing evidence of protein regulating muscle function during aging in mice, the researchers have described it as “unique.”

Study co-author Dr. Helen Blau is the director of the Baxter Laboratory for Stem Cell Biology at Stanford.

“This is the first time a drug treatment has been shown to affect both muscle fibers and the motor neurons that stimulate them to contract, speeding up healing and restoring strength and muscle mass,” said Dr. Blau.

What’s next?

The Stanford scientists want to build on their findings to see if this mechanism can be transitioned into real-life treatments and therapy. 

“Our next steps will be to examine whether blocking 15-PGDH function in people with conditions like spinal muscular atrophy, in combination with gene therapy or other treatments, can increase lost muscle strength,” said Dr. Blau. 

“We are also looking at ALS to see if something like this might help these patients. It’s really exciting that we are able to affect both muscle function and motor neuron growth.”

Growing stronger muscles

Weak muscle strength is a huge problem among elders. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), five percent of adults aged 60 and over have weak muscle strength, while 13 percent have intermediate muscle strength. 

But muscle weakness isn’t just a concern for older people. It starts creeping in as early as your 50s and comes with a great economic cost. Weaker muscles reduce the ability to move around, work, and care for oneself. This condition also increases the risk of injuries.

The good news is that science is making promising strides toward addressing this widespread problem. With continued research and advancement, a lasting solution for muscle weakness may be on the horizon.

The study can be found in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

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