New Insights into Muscle Health: How Innervation Influences the Recovery Process

Researchers from FLI and BTU identify the cause of changes in the behavior of muscle stem cells. The insights are the basis for more effective treatment of injuries and muscle diseases in the future, especially in the elderly.

Jena/Cottbus. The functionality of our muscles and their repair process are closely linked to innervation. But what happens when these connections are disrupted? A research team led by Julia von Maltzahn, Professor of Stem Cell Biology of Aging at Brandenburg University of Technology Cottbus-Senftenberg (BTU) and former research group leader at the Leibniz Institute on Aging - Fritz Lipmann Institute Jena (FLI), has now demonstrated that such interruptions in innervation not only significantly impact muscle functionality but also their regenerative capacity. The findings were published in March 2024 in the journal "npj Regenerative Medicine."

The investigations have shown that interruption of innervation of muscles primarily causes alterations in muscle fibers, which are an important component of the niche of muscle stem cells. Loss of innervations alters the composition of signaling molecules released by muscle fibers, thereby impairing the functionality of stem cells in skeletal muscle. Since muscle stem cells are essential for regeneration after injury, disruption of muscle stem cells leads to reduced repair of damaged muscles. Furthermore, the research team led by Julia von Maltzahn documented that loss of innervation also influences the integrity of muscle fibers themselves. The lead author, Henriette Henze, summarizes the results as follows: "Initially, the muscle fibers change in architecture and behavior, causing them to emit certain substances that, in turn, affect the properties and thus the activity of stem cells."

While a connection between nerve injuries and impaired muscle regeneration was known in the scientific community, the cause of the changes in the behavior of muscle stem cells has now been identified after five years of meticulous research. This paves the way for further approaches. "Our results are also applicable to other organ systems consisting of various cell types. It is important to analyze the overall structure of the tissue to understand the causes of changes in regenerative capacity," says Julia von Maltzahn. In a next step, it could be investigated which molecules exactly lead to these behavioral changes in stem cells and how this could be prevented. The insights gained now are thus the basis for more effective treatment of injuries and muscle diseases in the future, especially in the elderly.


Denervation alters the secretome of myofibers and thereby affects muscle stem cell lineage progression and functionality

Henriette Henze 1, Sören S Hüttner 1, Philipp Koch 1, Svenja C Schüler 1, Marco Groth 1, Björn von Eyss 1, Julia von Maltzahn 2 3

DOI: 10.1038/s41536-024-00353-3

Specialist contact

Prof. Dr. rer. nat.Julia von Maltzahn
Chair of Stem Cell Biology of Ageing
T +49 (0) 03573 85 526

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Background information

The field of Aging Stem Cell Biology, led by Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Julia von Maltzahn at BTU Cottbus-Senftenberg, is part of the Faculty of Health Sciences Brandenburg (FGW), a joint faculty of the three independent sponsoring universities Brandenburg University of Technology Cottbus-Senftenberg (BTU), University of Potsdam, and Brandenburg Medical School (MHB) Theodor Fontane.

TheLeibniz Institute on Aging – Fritz Lipmann Institute (FLI) – upon its inauguration in 2004 – was the first German research organization dedicated to research on the process of aging. Around 350 employees from around 40 nations explore the molecular mechanisms underlying aging processes and age-associated diseases.

The Leibniz Association connects 97 independent research institutions that range in focus from natural, engineering, and environmental sciences to economics, spatial, and social sciences and the humanities. Leibniz Institutes address issues of social, economic, and ecological relevance. They conduct basic and applied research, including in the interdisciplinary Leibniz Research Alliances, maintain scientific infrastructure, and provide research-based services. The Leibniz Association identifies focus areas for knowledge transfer, particularly with the Leibniz research museums. It advises and informs policymakers, science, industry, and the general public. Leibniz institutions collaborate intensively with universities – including in the form of Leibniz ScienceCampi – as well as with industry and other partners at home and abroad. They are subject to a transparent, independent evaluation procedure. Because of their importance for the country as a whole, the Leibniz Association Institutes are funded jointly by Germany’s central and regional governments. The Leibniz Institutes employ around 20,500 people, including 11,500 researchers. The financial volume amounts to 2 billion euros.

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Research group leader Julia von Maltzahn led the investigations of a team from FLI and BTU. (Photo: BTU, Sascha Thor)
The graphic documents how nerve connections influence the healing process (Graphic: created with Biorender).