Vitamin C Influences Gene Activity In Stem Cells

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Main Category: Stem Cell Research
Also Included In: Nutrition / Diet;  Fertility;  Cancer / Oncology
Article Date: 02 Jul 2013 – 3:00 PDT

What Ramalho-Santos and colleagues discovered is that vitamin C plays a crucial role in helping to release the brakes that stop certain genes from being expressed in stem cells in embryos soon after fertilization when the sperm fuses with the egg.

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In a statement, Ramalho-Santos explains that they didn’t set out to find what they discovered, “We bumped into this result,” he adds.

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“… we anticipate that Vitamin C might also regulate Tet function in the adult,” says Ramalho-Santos.

A study of mouse stem cells reveals that vitamin C may play a role in their health by influencing the switching on and off of genes. The researchers suggest this could have an important effect on the development of mice, humans and other animals, and finding out more about the underlying mechanisms could improve our understanding of in vitro fertilization, cancer and adult stem cells.

Another area to explore is whether vitamin C helps to maintain stem cell health in adult tissue. Recent studies have revealed that Tet enzymes are also active in adult tissue, not just in embryo development.

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Senior author and stem-cell scientist Miguel Ramalho-Santos of the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) and colleagues write about their findings in a June 30th online issue of Nature.
In cells, not all genes are active all the time. There is a regulated pattern of gene expression that switches genes on and off. This is held in the epigenome, the set of instructions that get passed on with DNA about how to control the DNA.

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Vitamin C Influences Gene Activity In Stem Cells

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Vitamin C Acts on Tet Enzymes to Influence DNA Methylation

Ramalho-Santos and colleagues discovered that vitamin C helps a group of enzymes called “Tet” that are active during early development, just after fertilization.

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The team came across the result while comparing different types of nutrient for growing mouse embryonic stem cells in the lab.

Potential Uses for Vitamin C In IVF, Cancer, Stem Cell Health

Ramalho-Santos says further studies should now explore how this discovery could have clinical uses. For example, they could look at whether adding vitamin C to the culture medium currently used in IVF improves results, and also, whether vitamin C can have an effect in certain cancers which are driven by faulty DNA methylation.

Tet acts on a wide array of methyl groups that are positioned along the DNA, these keep certain genes from being expressed. When Tet comes along, the genes are switched on as needed.

Stem-cell researchers may also start using vitamin C to help grow healthier stem cells, he adds.

The team found that Tet enzymes require vitamin C for optimal activity. In the cultured cells, adding vitamin C to the nurturing medium caused gene activity to more faithfully follow the pattern that occurs in the early stages of mouse embryo development.

One of the mechanisms the epigenome uses to regulate gene expression is DNA methylation. In DNA methylation, the epigenome adds a methyl group to a selected point on the genome to stop certain genes from being expressed.

Paddock, Catharine. “Vitamin C Influences Gene Activity In Stem Cells.” Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 2 Jul. 2013. Web.
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The team now plans to further study the effect of vitamin C on Tet in live mice.

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Funds from the National Institutes of Health, the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research helped finance the study.

A study published in Nature in 2011 suggests Tet plays an important role in stem cell reprogramming.

He and his colleagues wanted to find out how different ingredients in the growth medium affected gene activity in the stem cells. They found adding vitamin C increased the enzyme activity that releases the brakes that normally hold back certain gene expressions.

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Written by Catharine Paddock PhD
Copyright: Medical News Today

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stem cell research section for the latest news on this subject.

“Vitamin?C induces Tet-dependent DNA demethylation and a blastocyst-like state in ES cells”; Kathryn Blaschke, Kevin T. Ebata, Mohammad M. Karimi, Jorge A. Zepeda-Martínez, Preeti Goyal, Sahasransu Mahapatra, Angela Tam, Diana J. Laird, Martin Hirst, Anjana Rao, Matthew C. Lorincz, and Miguel Ramalho-Santos; Nature published online 30 June 2013; DOI: 10.1038/nature12362; Link to Abstract.
Additional source: UCSF Press Release.
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