Chronic Inflammation is the Major Cause of Pituitary Gland Aging in Mice

The pituitary gland regulates numerous processes in the body via endocrine signaling. Of particular interest is the relationship between the pituitary gland and the thymus, which appear to influence one another via still poorly understood exchanges of signals. The thymus is of great importance to immune function, but atrophies with age. There is some data to suggest that provoking greater pituary gland activity can reverse that process, at least in mice. Researchers here provide evidence for the age related degeneration of the pituitary gland and its function in the body to be largely the consequence of rising systemic inflammation characteristic of aging. Interestingly, similar conclusions have been drawn for the aging of the thymus.

The pituitary gland is a small, globular gland located underneath the brain that plays a major role in the hormonal system. Due to the central role played by the pituitary, its ageing may contribute to the reduction of hormonal processes and hormone levels in our body - as is the case with menopause, for instance. A new study provides significant insight into the stem cells in the ageing pituitary gland. In 2012, researchers showed that a prompt reaction of stem cells to injury in the gland leads to repair of the tissue, even in adult animals. "As a result of this new study, we now know that stem cells in the pituitary do not lose this regenerative capacity when the organism ages. In fact, the stem cells are only unable to do their job because, over time, the pituitary becomes an 'inflammatory environment' as a result of the chronic inflammation. But as soon as the stem cells are taken out of this environment, they show the same properties as stem cells from a young pituitary."

This insight opens up a number of potential therapeutic avenues: would it be possible to reactivate the pituitary? This wouldn't just involve slowing down hormonal ageing processes, but also repairing the damage caused by a tumour in the pituitary, for example. The study also suggests another interesting avenue: the use of anti-inflammatory drugs to slow down pituitary ageing or rejuvenate an ageing pituitary. "Several studies have shown that anti-inflammatory drugs may have a positive impact on some ageing organs. No research has yet been performed on this effect in relation to the pituitary."

"Mice have a much greater regeneration capacity than humans. They can repair damaged teeth, for instance, while humans have lost this ability over the course of their evolution. Regardless, there are plenty of signs suggesting that pituitary processes in mice and humans are similar, and we have recent evidence to hand that gene expression in the pituitaries of humans and mice is very similar. As such, it is highly likely that the insights we gained in mice will equally apply to humans."


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