Oct4 is a crucial gene expressed in pluripotent stem cells and the early embryo, but research has now confirmed it remains partially active in some adult tissues too - protecting against stroke and cardiocascular disease
Oct4 is one of the master regulators involved in maintaining stem cell pluripotency, and is highly expressed in pockets within the developing embryo. It's also one of handful of factors researchers use to create induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) from adult cells. Because of it's early role, most scientists didn't believe it remained active in adult tissue but new research has indicated that it may well hang around, playing a protective role.
"Finding a way to augment the expression of this gene in adult cells may have profound implications for promoting health and possibly reversing some of the detrimental effects with aging. Our findings have major implications regarding possible novel therapeutic approaches for promoting stabilization of atherosclerotic plaques"
Researchers from the University of Virginia School of Medicine have determined that Oct4 dictates the movement of smooth muscle cells, allowing them to form protective fibrous caps that reduce the deadly plaque rupture associated with strokes and heart attacks. When they blocked the action of Oct4, the plaques inside mouse arteries grew larger and became unstable as they filled with dead cells and lipids.
A new therapeutic target
The team believes that one of the contributors to cardiovascular disease could therefore be a reduction in Oct4 expression, which means it could potentially be reactivated in future treatments. Because the gene plays such an important role in early life, it's possible it's involved in a number of other pathways in adult tissue too like tissue regeneration and wound healing, which the researchers are looking to study next.
"Finding a way to reactivate this pathway may have profound implications for health and aging. We think this is just the tip of the iceberg for controlling plasticity of somatic cells, and this could impact many human diseases and the field of regenerative medicine. Who knows, this may end up being the 'fountain-of-youth gene,' a way to revitalize old and worn-out cells. Only time will tell"
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