Cellular DNA is under constant challenge by exogenous and endogenous genotoxic stress, which results in both transient and accumulated DNA damage and genomic instability. All cells are equipped with DNA damage response pathways that trigger DNA repair, cell cycle arrest, and, if need be, apoptosis, to eliminate DNA damage or damaged cells. The consequences of these processes for stem cells can be profound: diminution in stem cell pools, or, because of altered gene expression, an increased chance for stem cell differentiation or malignant transformation. Furthermore, a number of DNA repair abnormalities are linked to premature aging syndromes, and these are associated with defects in the stem cell population. The specific DNA repair systems for which there are data regarding the impact of repair defects on stem cell function include O6-alkylguanine DNA alkyltransferase, nucleotide excision repair, base excision repair, mismatch repair, non-homologous DNA end-joining Fanconi's anemia protein complex, and homologous recombination. It has recently become clear that deficiencies of these processes are associated not only with cancer and/or aging but also with stem cell defects. This discovery raises the possibility of a link between aging and stem cell dysfunction. In this review, we provide evidence for a link between DNA repair systems and the maintenance and longevity of stem cells.
Some of the most interesting work on stem cells at the moment is unrelated to regenerative medicine - a lot of people would be very happy to see that the degenerative effects of aging are strongly dependent on changes in a small population of cells; e.g. reduced ability of stem cells to repair damage in the body. We don't know whether this is the case or not, but if so it would open the door to another potential class of therapies to slow the aging process. More research is needed, as always!