Researchers have detected a protein that protects bone marrow stem cells from infection. In humans this protein has the name YTHDF2.
Markedly, in mice the same protein exists. It is important to realize that the function of this protein is to protect bone marrow stem cells during times of infection. In fact, this is the time when stem cells have to multiply and produce more lymphocytes for the immune system. Indeed, in this way the immune system can fight an infection.
A team of researchers from the University of Edinburgh and Queen Mary University of London did experiments with mice that lacked the YTHDF2 protein. To emphasize, the bone marrow cells (hematopoietic cells) became inflamed and were unable to produce more blood cells. As a result, the mice became more prone to infections.
This is exactly what normally happens with the aging process. The production of new blood cells suffers and older humans, and in animal experiments also older mice become more prone to infections.
Professor Kamil Kranc said that inflammatory pathways force bone marrow stem cells to produce immune cells rapidly. But these pathways can exhaust stem cells. The new detection of the YTHDF2 protein can protect stem cells and prevent inflammation-induced exhaustion. Professor Kranc said that he hopes that this new discovery will lead to ways of protecting stem cell integrity.
Professor Dónal O’Carroll, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Biological Sciences, who participated in the study said: “Our investigations not only uncover the key significance of YTHDF2 in protecting blood stem cells but also highlight the importance of mRNA modifications in this process. One key function of YTHDF2 is to bind to the m6A chemical modification on mRNA and promote degradation. Our work demonstrating that YTHDF2 downregulates the activity of pro-inflammatory genes, may establish a paradigm whereby m6A mRNA modification regulates inflammatory pathways in blood and also other tissue stem cells.”
Stem cell protective role of YTHDF2 protein
In simple terms this means that special proteins ensure that stem cells remain active even in adverse conditions. This could be infections or chronic inflammation.
The other side of that coin is that longevity may be related to the same stem cell protective effect. Some publications dubbed this the “Fountain of Youth”. With older age stem cell populations in the bone marrow are decreased. This is the reason for the immune system being weaker in old age. With the YTHDF2 protein stimulating stem cell growth there can be a rejuvenating effect on the body. Hopefully one day physicians can give this protein as an injection to stimulate the immune system.
Researchers showed that the new YTHDF2 protein stimulates and protects bone marrow stem cells. This means the body produces immune cells at a time of an infection as this protein shields stem cells. The same effect may be rejuvenating the immune system and other bone marrow cell production. But this needs further investigations. It is interesting to note that the YTHDF2 protein is identical in mice and man. More clinical work will show the significance of this protein and perhaps in future lead to an injectable therapy.