Although muscle stem cells are able to grow and repair torn muscle tissue after we sustain an injury, they become less effective as we age. Now researchers at the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute at Monash University have discovered a novel protein that can trigger the proliferation of these stem cells and promote healing, offering hope not only to those who have torn a muscle, but also the elderly and those suffering severe muscle wasting diseases.
While studying the cells that migrated to the site of a muscle injury in zebrafish, the researchers noticed macrophages appeared to play a role in triggering the regeneration of muscle stem cells. Macrophages are a type of white blood cell that converge on the site of any injury or infection in the body to clear away debris and promote healing. Professor Currie calls them “the clean-up crew of the immune system.”
To study the regeneration of skeletal muscle, the research team, led by Professor Peter Currie, turned to zebrafish. The zebrafish is a popular animal model for studying cell regeneration due to their quick reproduction rate, the fact that they share at least 70 percent of their genes with humans, and the ease with which they can be manipulated experimentally. They are also transparent, providing a convenient window for the viewing of actual regeneration in living muscle.