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October 19, 2009
Volume 87, Number 42
p. 56

A Whiff Of Knowledge, Muscle Makeovers

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It’s midnight, and you’re up cramming for an important exam that begins in a mere eight hours. You drain another pot of coffee, hoping the caffeine will give your brain the boost it needs. You could be looking at an all-nighter. Been there, done that?

Now, researchers from the University of Kiel, in Germany, may have found a way for cramming students to bypass the coffee overdose and all-nighter and still ace the exam: a COGNITIVE-ENHANCING NASAL SPRAY.

In the FASEB Journal (DOI: 10.1096/fj.08-122853), Lisa Marshall and her colleagues present evidence indicating that interleukin-6, an immune-system molecule that helps regulate fever, can, when administered like a drug, help the brain retain information during REM sleep. To work, Marshall notes, it takes a good night’s sleep. In summary, she says, “interleukin-6 plays a beneficial role in sleep-dependent formation of long-term memory in humans.”

In the German study, 17 men between the ages of 20 and 36 were instructed to read a short story. Some in the group received an interleukin-6-containing nasal spray and the rest received a placebo spray. After the subjects turned in for the night, the researchers monitored their sleep cycles and brain activity.

The next morning, the subjects were asked to recall and write down as many words as they could from the story they had read the previous night. Marshall and her coworkers found that those subjects who received the nasal spray containing interleukin-6 could recall more about the story they had read than those who received the placebo.

No word yet if there are any commercial plans for the nasal spray, but should it ever be developed, the all-night cram session could become a thing of the past.

By the time future students can boot their brains by way of nasal sprays, their grandparents might be able to recapture the brawn of their own student days, albeit in a more complicated way. From wrinkle-smoothing Botox injections to hand-rejuvenation surgery, there were an estimated 11.7 million cosmetic procedures performed in the U.S. in 2007, according to the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. Long gone are the days of aging gracefully. When it comes to remaining forever young, Americans are obsessed.

Now, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, claim they have uncovered a vital biochemical pathway linked to the aging of HUMAN MUSCLES that could lead to muscle-rejuvenation treatments.

Stem cells in people as old as 70 years “still have the remarkable capacity to behave just like they do in the young,” says Morgan E. Carlson, one of the researchers on the study. “In this case, we conducted experiments whereby stem cells were isolated from old humans, cultured under young conditions, and became rejuvenated.”

Key among those young conditions was the control of a growth factor whose overabundance in older muscles tends to shut down the ability of the stem cells to replicate into new muscle cells. “Our study shows that the ability of old human muscle to be maintained and repaired by muscle stem cells can be restored to youthful vigor given the right mix of biochemical signals,” colleague Irina M. Conboy said in a statement released by UC Berkeley.

The researchers haven’t uncovered the whole story to muscle aging, but Carlson and colleagues are encouraged enough by what they have learned to look into clinical trials. “Many people could benefit from our findings,” Carlson says, adding that he likes to imagine “people will start getting their muscles rejuvenated in the future.”

Carlson and colleagues published their findings in EMBO Molecular Medicine (DOI: 10.1002/emmm.200900045).

Faith Hayden wrote this week's column. Please send comments and suggestions to

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2011 American Chemical Society
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