A type of vitamin B3 can protect cells from ageing by boosting the regeneration process. The paper documenting the findings is published in the journal Science.
Nicotinamide riboside (NR), a form of vitamin B3, has a positive effect on the functioning of stem cells.
The beneficial effects of NR were discovered when the team of researchers set out to study the age-related deterioration of the regeneration process of organs in mice. Hongbo Zhang and his team aim to understand how age undermines the regenerative ability of organs like the liver, and muscles like those of the heart. They focused on mitochondria particularly, and they eventually stumbled on the molecular chain behind the regulation of mitochondria function, and the changes that happen with age. The functioning of the mitochondria was also shown to be critical for stem cells; it is to be noted that mitochondria are the powerhouse of cells, as they are the site of the production of energy. Author Johan Auwerx says that it is the first time the good functioning of mitochondria has been found to be important for stem cells.
Stem cells will normally cause the regeneration of damaged organs when prompted by the body. They will contribute new cells as required. However, if the stem cells are affected by fatigue, they will not be able to carry out their functions, leading to a poor regeneration, and even degeneration of tissues and organs in certain cases.
Therefore, to tackle this problem, the researchers revitalised the stem cells by providing a molecule to the mitochondria so that the latter can function adequately. This added substance is the NR that is known to be important for mitochondrial activity. The results show that the administration of NR to old rats led to a greater regeneration of their tissues. These mice also had a longer life span than other mice that were not fed the NR.
Auwerx explains that their study focuses on restoring the very regeneration ability of the body through a substance taken with food instead of using foreign substances.
The findings constitute a ray of hope for conditions marked by the degeneration of cells in young people like muscular dystrophy.