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No Matter Your Age, Your Liver is Young

Liver and other organs. Credit: Wikipedia

The liver is an organ that clears the body of toxins and can actually regenerate itself if injured. A recent study found that the liver's ability to regenerate itself does not diminish with age. Good news!

A recent study analyzed livers of persons (20 to 84 years old) who had died and found that everyone's liver cells looked to be about the same age - just under 3 years old! There is constant replenishment of liver cells in the body, no matter the person's age.

There is also a subgroup of liver cells containing more DNA, that live up to a decade. But they also get replaced. Anyway you look at it - your liver is young!

From Medical Xpress: Your liver is just under three years old

The liver is an essential organ that takes care of clearing toxins in our bodies. Because it constantly deals with toxic substances, it is likely to be regularly injured. To overcome this, the liver has a unique capacity among organs to regenerate itself after damage. Because a lot of the body's ability to heal itself and regenerate decreases as we age, scientists were wondering if the liver's capacity to renew also diminishes with age.

In terms of past research, the nature of liver renewal in humans remained a bit of a mystery while animal models provided contradictory answers. "Some studies pointed to the possibility that liver cells are long-lived while others showed a constant turnover. It was clear to us that if we want to know what happens in humans, we need to find a way to directly assess the age of human liver cells," says Dr. Olaf Bergmann, research group leader at the Center for Regenerative Therapies Dresden (CRTD) at TU Dresden.

The human liver remains a young organ

The interdisciplinary team of biologists, physicists, mathematicians, and clinicians led by Dr. Bergmann analyzed the livers of multiple individuals who died at ages between 20 and 84 years old. Surprisingly, the team showed that the liver cells of all subjects were more or less the same age.

"No matter if you are 20 or 84, your liver stays on average just under three years old," explains Dr. Bergmann. The results show that the adjustment of liver mass to the needs of the body is tightly regulated through the constant replacement of liver cells and that this process is maintained even in older people. This ongoing liver cell replacement is important for various aspects of liver regeneration and cancer formation.

Liver cells with more DNA renew less

However, not all the cells in our liver are that young. A fraction of cells can live up to 10 years before renewing itself. This subpopulation of liver cells carries more DNA than the typical cells. "Most of our cells have two sets of chromosomes, but some cells accumulate more DNA as they age. In the end, such cells can carry four, eight, or even more sets of chromosomes," explains Dr. Bergmann.

"When we compared typical liver cells with the cells richer in DNA, we found fundamental differences in their renewal. Typical cells renew approximately once a year, while the cells richer in DNA can reside in the liver for up to a decade," says Dr. Bergmann. "As this fraction gradually increases with age, this could be a protective mechanism that safeguards us from accumulating harmful mutations. We need to find out if there are similar mechanisms in chronic liver disease, which in some cases can turn into cancer."

The Bergmann group also explores the mechanisms that drive the regeneration of other tissues considered as static, such as the brain or the heart. The team has previously used their expertise in retrospective radiocarbon birth dating to show that the formation of new brain and heart cells is not limited to prenatal time but continues throughout life. Currently, the group is investigating whether new human heart muscle cells can still be generated in people with chronic heart disease.

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