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Inner Salamander: People restore cartilage like amphibians

UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON (OBSERVATORY) — The idea that the cartilage in the human joint is not restored turned out to be a myth. Biologists have discovered the mechanism for its renewal and now hope to strengthen it in order to rid humanity of arthritis. In the future, we may even learn to grow amputated legs.

The achievement is described in a scientific article published in the journal Science Advances.

Some animals, such as salamanders and zebrafish, are famous for their ability to regenerate limbs. Scientists know which microRNA molecules trigger this process. Scientists also revealed a curious pattern: wounds at the very ends of the limbs of such creatures heal much better than closer to the body.

Until recently, experts believed that such superpower has no analogues in the rational human body. But recent research is forcing a review of this thesis.

The authors developed a method for estimating the age of a protein molecule. Recall that such a molecule is a chain of amino acids. With time, predictable amino acid transformations occur in the protein. By the number of such altered units, one can judge how long a protein molecule has been synthesized.

Armed with this technique, scientists determined the age of key proteins of the human cartilage, including collagen, in the joints of the lower extremities.

It turned out that the cartilage proteins in the ankle joint are younger than in the knee joint, and those younger than in the hip joint. That is, the proteins in the joints are still updated throughout life. In this case, the closer the joint to the end of the limb, the more often the update occurs.

This explains the long-known fact that medical injuries of the ankle joint heal faster and less likely to lead to arthritis than damage to the knee and especially the hip joints.

Researchers have noticed that this pattern makes us look like salamanders and other champions in regeneration , who are also given the easier recovery, the farther away the injured place from the body.

Then the biologists decided to study the mechanism of renewal of our cartilage tissue. It was found that the same miRNAs are involved in it as those of our smaller brothers. The activity of these molecules, as expected, was higher in the joints located closer to the end of the leg. In addition, it was higher in the surface layers of the cartilage compared to its deeper layers.

“We were delighted to know that salamander limb regeneration regulators appear to be also regulators of joint tissue repair in the human limbs,” says first author of the study, Ming-Feng Hsueh from Duke University. “We call it the abilities of our inner salamander. ”

Scientists note that on the basis of these miRNAs, it is possible to create drugs that slow the development of arthritis, or even reverse its course .

“We believe that we could strengthen these regulators to completely regenerate the cartilage of the joint that degenerated [as a result of] arthritis,” said research team head Virginia Kraus , also from Duke University.

At the same time, researchers do not lose sight of more ambitious goals, because such a mechanism is unlikely to be specific to cartilage. Most likely, with its help you can restore a variety of tissues.

“If we can figure out which regulators we lack in comparison with the salamanders, we can add back the missing components and someday develop a way to regenerate part or all of the injured human limb,” Kraus suggests.

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