University of Maryland (UMD) researchers report that methylene blue (MB), a common chemical with a 120-year-long history of diverse applications, can treat progeria, a rare genetic disease that imitates the body’s aging process at an augmented rate. Lab test found that small doses of methylene blue can almost fully repair progeria-damaged cells.
The study also revealed that methylene blue can treat age-related damage in healthy cells, suggesting that methylene blue can also treat normal aging symptoms.
In recent years there has been a surge of interest in MB as an antimalarial agent and as a potential treatment of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD), possibly through its inhibition of the aggregation of tau protein.
Progeria symptoms manifest within a person’s first year of life. This rare genetic disorder causes the skin to thin and wrinkle as well as joints and bones to become fragile. Other symptoms include organ failure and body hair loss. Majority of progeria patients do not reach adulthood and can barely survive their teenage years.
“It seems that methylene blue rescues every affected structure within the cell. When we looked at the treated cells, it was hard to tell that they were progeria cells at all. It’s like magic,” said senior study author Kan Cao, a molecular genetics and cell biology associate professor at UMD.
The rare genetic disease is caused by a single defect in a gene that produces a type of protein called lamin A. Normal, healthy cells cut a small piece in every lamin A produced. This minor tweak enables the lamin A to work effectively.
Progeria-defected cells sidesteps the minor tweak. The lamin A becomes defective and blocks the nuclear membrane. This results in cluster formations and distortions that interfere with normal body functions.
Cells inflicted with progeria contain defective and distorted mitochondria that produce a cell’s energy. The researchers found that most mitochondria in progeria-inflicted cells are jagged and inflated. This disrupts the mitochondria’s main function.
In the lab tests, methylene blue reverses the damages progeria had inflicted to both mitochondria and nucleus. The resulting progeria cells became almost identical to healthy cells.
When methylene blue was tested in healthy cells that were allowed to progress at the normal rate, the chemical also repaired the age-related damages. The findings were published in the Aging Cell journal on Dec. 10.
“This is such an exciting result with so much potential, both for progeria and normal aging,” added lead author Zheng-Mei Xiong, a postdoctoral associate at UMD.
Methylene blue’s ability to repair cell defects can pave the way for full-body treatment in progeria patients. Findings provide a basis of methylene blue’s wide-spread use in the cosmetic and nutritional supplement industries as an anti-aging additive.