The most challenging part of using stem cells to treat diseased and damaged human tissues is converting adult cells to pluripotent stem cells. Now, scientists have discovered that vitamins A and C can induce amnesia in stem cells and aid in this process.
Regenerative medicine technologies rely on the ability of scientists to erase DNA memory. Adult cells are differentiated into a specific tissue type and are resistant to a change in identity. Reprogramming of adult cells has been possible since 2006. A new study conducted at the University of Otago in New Zealand has now revealed that vitamins A and C work in conjunction to erase the adult cell’s memory. This allows the adult cell to be artificially coerced to developing into a different type of tissue in the laboratory. The findings were recently published in the scientific journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
Tim Hore, previously of the Babraham Institute in the United Kingdom and currently a member of the team that conducted the study in New Zealand, explains the process. During development, cells undergo a process known as DNA methylation which allows them to acquire certain alterations. These alterations are a type of cell memory that helps adult cells stay faithful to their specialized function. Researchers know that removing this memory from the cell’s DNA is critical in creating a cell that is developmentally naïve and can change to another cell type. The new study has demonstrated that vitamins A and C work synergistically to aid in cell reprogramming by removing DNA methylation from cells. This allows programmable stem cells to be produced in much greater numbers than previously possible.
Certain enzymes in the cell are responsible for active removal of DNA methylation. Vitamin A has been found to increase the amount of these enzymes in the cell. Vitamin C has been found to enhance the activity of these enzymes. Thus, both vitamins complement each other.
These findings have potential applications outside stem cell therapies as well. Certain cancers are characterized by a loss of DNA methylation and cell memory. A better understanding of the process could, therefore, be of significance in cancer treatment.