Multi-omics characterization of partial chemical reprogramming reveals evidence of cell rejuvenation

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    This valuable study reports comprehensive multi-omic data on the changes induced in young and aged male mouse tail fibroblasts after treatment with chemical reprogramming factors. The authors claim that chemical reprogramming factors induce changes consistent with a reduction of cellular 'biological' age (e.g., correlations with established aging markers in whole tissues). However, the study relies on previously identified aging markers (instead of aging in the tail fibroblast system itself), and thus, at this stage, the evidence in support of the observed molecular changes truly reflecting changes in biological age in the study system is still incomplete.

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Abstract

Partial reprogramming by cyclic short-term expression of Yamanaka factors holds promise for shifting cells to younger states and consequently delaying the onset of many diseases of aging. However, the delivery of transgenes and potential risk of teratoma formation present challenges for in vivo applications. Recent advances include the use of cocktails of compounds to reprogram somatic cells, but the characteristics and mechanisms of partial cellular reprogramming by chemicals remain unclear. Here, we report a multi-omics characterization of partial chemical reprogramming in fibroblasts from young and aged mice. We measured the effects of partial chemical reprogramming on the epigenome, transcriptome, proteome, phosphoproteome, and metabolome. At the transcriptome, proteome, and phosphoproteome levels, we saw widescale changes induced by this treatment, with the most notable signature being an upregulation of mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation. Furthermore, at the metabolome level, we observed a reduction in the accumulation of aging-related metabolites. Using both transcriptomic and epigenetic clock-based analyses, we show that partial chemical reprogramming reduces the biological age of mouse fibroblasts. We demonstrate that these changes have functional impacts, as evidenced by changes in cellular respiration and mitochondrial membrane potential. Taken together, these results illuminate the potential for chemical reprogramming reagents to rejuvenate aged biological systems and warrant further investigation into adapting these approaches for in vivo age reversal.

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  1. eLife assessment

    This valuable study reports comprehensive multi-omic data on the changes induced in young and aged male mouse tail fibroblasts after treatment with chemical reprogramming factors. The authors claim that chemical reprogramming factors induce changes consistent with a reduction of cellular 'biological' age (e.g., correlations with established aging markers in whole tissues). However, the study relies on previously identified aging markers (instead of aging in the tail fibroblast system itself), and thus, at this stage, the evidence in support of the observed molecular changes truly reflecting changes in biological age in the study system is still incomplete.

  2. Reviewer #1 (Public Review):

    Summary:
    The investigators employed multi-omics approach to show the functional impact of partial chemical reprogramming in fibroblasts from young and aged mice.

    Strengths:
    Multi-omics data was collected, including epigenome, transcriptome, proteome, phosphoproteome, and metabolome. Different analyses were conducted accordingly, including differential expression analysis, gene set enrichment analysis, transcriptomic and epigenetic clock-based analyses. The impact of partial chemical reprogramming on aging was supported by these multi-source results.

    Weaknesses:
    More experimental data may be needed to further validate current findings.

  3. Reviewer #2 (Public Review):

    The short-term administration of reprogramming factors to partially reprogram cells has gained traction in recent years as a potential strategy to reverse aging in cells and organisms. Early studies used Yamanaka factors in transgenic mice to reverse aging phenotypes, but chemical cocktails could present a more feasible approach for in vivo delivery. In this study, Mitchell et al sought to determine the effects that short-term administration of chemical reprogramming cocktails have on biological age and function. To address this question, they treated young and old mouse fibroblasts with chemical reprogramming cocktails and performed transcriptome, proteome, metabolome, and DNA methylation profiling pre- and post-treatment. For each of these datasets, they identified changes associated with treatment, showing downregulation of some previously identified molecular signatures of aging in both young and old cells. From these data, the authors conclude that partial chemical reprogramming can rejuvenate both young and old fibroblasts.

    The main strength of this study is the comprehensive profiling of cells pre- and post-treatment with the reprogramming cocktails, which will be a valuable resource for better understanding the molecular changes induced by chemical reprogramming. The authors highlighted consistent changes across the different datasets that are thought to be associated with aging phenotypes, showing reduction of age-associated signatures previously identified in various tissues. However, from the findings, it remains unclear which changes are functionally relevant in the specific fibroblast system being used. Specifically:

    1. The 4 month and 20 month mouse fibroblasts are designated "young" vs "old" in this study. An important analysis that was not shown for each of the profiled modalities was a comparison of untreated young vs old fibroblasts to determine age-associated molecular changes in this specific model of aging. Then, rather than using aging signatures defined in other tissues, it would be more appropriate to determine whether the chemical cocktails reverted old fibroblasts to a younger state based on the age-associated changes identified in this comparison.
    2. Across all datasets, it appears that the global profiles of young vs old mouse fibroblasts are fairly similar compared to treated fibroblasts, suggesting that the chemical cocktails are not reverting the fibroblasts to a younger state but instead driving them to a different cell state. Similarly, in most cases where specific age-related processes/genes are being compared across untreated and treated samples, no significant differences are observed between young and old fibroblasts.
    3. Functional validation experiments to confirm that specific changes observed after partial reprogramming are indeed reducing biological age is limited.
    4. Partial reprogramming appears to substantially reduce biological age of the young (4 month) fibroblasts based on the aging signatures used. It is unclear how this result should be interpreted.