As people age, their muscle regeneration capacity declines in part because they can no longer make enough muscle stem cells to replace damaged tissue. To offset that, a scientist with The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) is working to enhance the body’s ability to repair damaged skeletal muscle.

The research is supported with a $1.9 million grant from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Increasing the number of stem cells could enhance growth of new muscle, believes the study’s principal investigator, Rebecca Berdeaux, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Integrative Biology and Pharmacology with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth.

“Muscle stem cells are normally dormant until an injury occurs. We’re researching the molecular mechanisms that boost the cells’ ability to multiply,” Berdeaux said.

One of three types of muscle, skeletal muscles control your every movement and utilize much of the energy from your diet. Sports, aging, and genetics can contribute to skeletal muscle injury. During aging, loss of muscle reduces quality of life.

Berdeaux’s team is using a mouse model of muscle injury to outline the chain of events that occur when muscle stem cells are activated as the tissue heals. Her research centers on an on/off switch that triggers muscle stem cell multiplication during the muscle regeneration process (cAMP-responsive transcription factor CREB.)

“It is known that the CREB transcription factor plays a critical role in muscle stem cell proliferation during the regeneration process. However, less is known about how CREB and its partner proteins control the accurate timing of muscle stem cell division after an injury,” Berdeaux said. “We want to learn more about the molecular pathways that drive muscle stem cell division, and ultimately muscle regeneration.”

The researchers believe that identification of the signaling pathways and genes that stimulate muscle stem cell proliferation could reveal new ways to help maintain muscle health and function during aging.

“We are fortunate to have a fantastic team of scientists from UTHealth collaborating on this project,” Berdeaux said.

Collaborators include Radbod Darabi, MD, PhD, assistant professor with the Center for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine at the Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine for the Prevention of Human Diseases at UTHealth; Jeffrey T. Chang, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Integrative Biology and Pharmacology and Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas Scholar; and Dmitry Akhmedov, PhD, a research scientist in the Department of Integrative Biology and Pharmacology.

Darabi specializes in the isolation and analysis of muscle stem cells while Chang is a leader in genomics and transcription factor function.

The five-year study is titled “Promotion of satellite cell proliferation by cAMP signaling.”

Berdeaux, Chang, and Darabi are on the faculty of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center UTHealth Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

The NIH award number is R01AR072368.