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Growth hormone activates gene involved in healing damaged tissue

during aging.

"The literature had suggested that growth hormone therapy in elderly men stimulates cells to divide," said Costa, leading to increases in muscle mass and skin thickness and greater bone density in the spine, while decreasing body fat.

"We wanted to find out how the hormone worked at a molecular level."

When aged mice whose livers had been partially removed were injected with human growth hormone, histological and other tests showed that the activity of the Foxm1b gene increased dramatically, as did levels of various enzymes and proteins that cause cells to divide. At the same time, the livers of these animals regenerated at a pace found in young mice. Cell proliferation peaked at just two days, and the liver was fully restored within a week.

By comparison, in aged mice that did not receive hormone injections, complete regeneration took a month or longer. Without growth hormone to turn on Foxm1b, the gene remained stuck at the low level of activity found in old age, and liver cells failed to multiply rapidly enough for a quick recovery.

Further tests were done with genetically engineered mice in whose liver cells the Foxm1b gene had been disabled. In these mice, growth hormone injections failed to stimulate recovery when the liver was partially removed.

"These results clearly demonstrate that Foxm1b is essential for growth hormone to spur liver regeneration," Costa said.

The study is apt to provide impetus for high-end clinics and spas already offering growth hormone injections to "treat" old age, but Costa is cautious about drawing any conclusions from his research about the merits of the therapy.

"Our liver regeneration studies tell us a great deal about how growth hormone works at a molecular level, but the injections occurred only over short periods of time, giving us no information about any long-term consequences," Costa said.

While several studies have shown that prolong
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Contact: Sharon Butler
sbutler@uic.edu
312-355-2522
University of Illinois at Chicago
3-Dec-2003


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