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New research from the Kusumbe Group at the Kennedy Institute has shown a direct correlation between age-related decline in capillary and artery numbers and hormone production in the endocrine system.

High-resolution 3D image, tile scan (l) and medulla region (r) of an adrenal gland showing blood vessels (red) and perivascular cells (green and blue)
High-resolution 3D image, tile scan (l) and medulla region (r) of an adrenal gland showing blood vessels (red) and perivascular cells (green and blue)

The endocrine system is made up of a series of glands that produce hormones, carried through the bloodstream to various tissues in the body. It is known that with ageing, there are changes in hormone production and this is linked to disease and loss of function of the organs. But, in a new study published in the EMBO Journal, the cause of those changes has now been identified. 

Anjali Kusumbe’s group examined young versus old tissue from three endocrine organs, the testes, pancreas and thyroid glands, and found that the volume and density of blood vessels decreased with ageing. The decline corresponded to a reduction in hormone production.  

Anjali said: “What was surprising was the extent of the correlation between the decline in blood vessel density and hormone output production. Functionally, this was never known, and not something we had expected to see. Now we have more of an understanding of the molecular mechanisms we can say with clarity that the blood vessels are controlling the production of hormones.” 

The team screened for changes between a young endocrine system and the aged tissues using high-resolution confocal imaging of thick sections, and light‐sheet imaging of the whole glands. They screened for wide range of antibodies resulting in extensive single‐cell resolution 3D volumes with over 1000 three‐dimensional scans of whole mouse endocrine glands. This data atlas has been made publicly and freely available for further for viewing and download, allowing investigations in the various fields of endocrinology, ageing, vascular and matrix biology. 

“An exciting discovery with further implications on treating age-associated diseases is the regulation of endothelial cell and associated endocrine tissue ageing by a gap junction communication protein called Gja1” said Junyu Chen, Postdoctoral Fellow at the Kennedy Institute and first author of the paper.  

“Our results provide proof of concept for understanding age‐related vascular changes,” Anjali continued. “What this implies is that if we can manipulate the blood vessels we could actually control the hormone output, which would be a huge step towards treating diseases and conditions associated with the ageing process.” 

The research was carried out in collaboration with Imperial College in London and funded by the MRC and ERC. 

 

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