KU Leuven: Main gland of endocrine system ages due to process that may be slow

The pituitary gland is a spherical gland under the brain that plays a crucial role in the endocrine system, explains Professor Hugo Vankelecom of the Department of Development and Regeneration at KU Leuven. “My research group discovered that the pituitary gland ages due to a form of chronic inflammation that affects tissue and even the entire organism. This natural process usually goes unnoticed and is called ‘ inflammaging ‘ – a contraction of inflammation and aging . It has previously been linked to the aging of other organs.” Due to the central role of the pituitary gland, its aging could contribute to the reduction of hormonal processes and hormone levels in our body, such as during the menopause.

The study also provided important insight into the stem cells in an aging pituitary gland. In 2012, Vankelecom and his colleagues already proved that a rapid response from those stem cells ensures that a damaged pituitary gland can repair itself, even in adult animals. “Thanks to our new study, we now also know that stem cells in the pituitary gland do not lose these regenerative capacities with age. They can no longer do their job because over time the pituitary gland becomes a so-called ‘inflammatory environment’ due to the chronic inflammation. But as soon as you remove the stem cells from that environment, they show the same properties as stem cells from a young pituitary gland.”

From mouse to human
Vankelecom and his colleagues examined the pituitary glands of mice, so further research should show whether their findings also apply to humans. Vankelecom: “Mice have a greater regeneration capacity than humans. This allows them to repair damaged teeth themselves, while humans have lost that property in the course of evolution. But there is still a lot of evidence that processes in the pituitary gland in mice and humans are similar, and we have recent evidence that gene expressions in the pituitary glands of humans and mice are very similar. So it is very likely that our insights also apply to humans.”

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