Spontaneous reversal of the developmental aging of normal human cells following transcriptional reprogramming


To determine whether transcriptional reprogramming is capable of reversing the developmental aging of normal human somatic cells to an embryonic state.

Materials & methods:

An isogenic system was utilized to facilitate an accurate assessment of the reprogramming of telomere restriction fragment (TRF) length of aged differentiated cells to that of the human embryonic stem (hES) cell line from which they were originally derived. An hES-derived mortal clonal cell strain EN13 was reprogrammed by SOX2, OCT4 and KLF4. The six resulting induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell lines were surveyed for telomere length, telomerase activity and telomere-related gene expression. In addition, we measured all these parameters in widely-used hES and iPS cell lines and compared the results to those obtained in the six new isogenic iPS cell lines. Results: We observed variable but relatively long TRF lengths in three widely studied hES cell lines (16.09–21.1 kb) but markedly shorter TRF lengths (6.4–12.6 kb) in five similarly widely studied iPS cell lines. Transcriptome analysis comparing these hES and iPS cell lines showed modest variation in a small subset of genes implicated in telomere length regulation. However, iPS cell lines consistently showed reduced levels of telomerase activity compared with hES cell lines. In order to verify these results in an isogenic background, we generated six iPS cell clones from the hES-derived cell line EN13. These iPS cell clones showed initial telomere lengths comparable to the parental EN13 cells, had telomerase activity, expressed embryonic stem cell markers and had a telomere-related transcriptome similar to hES cells. Subsequent culture of five out of six lines generally showed telomere shortening to lengths similar to that observed in the widely distributed iPS lines. However, the clone EH3, with relatively high levels of telomerase activity, progressively increased TRF length over 60 days of serial culture back to that of the parental hES cell line.


Prematurely aged (shortened) telomeres appears to be a common feature of iPS cells created by current pluripotency protocols. However, the spontaneous appearance of lines that express sufficient telomerase activity to extend telomere length may allow the reversal of developmental aging in human cells for use in regenerative medicine.


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