A Werner syndrome stem cell model unveils heterochromatin alterations as a driver of human aging

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Science  05 Jun 2015:
Vol. 348, Issue 6239, pp. 1160-1163
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa1356

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Heterochromatin in aging stem cells

Analysis of human aging syndromes, such as Werner syndrome (WS), may lead to greater understanding of both premature and normal aging. Zhang et al. generated isogenic WS-specific human embryonic stem cell lines (see the Perspective by Brunauer and Kennedy). WS-mesenchymal stem cells displayed features characteristic of premature aging, including heterochromatin disorganization. WRN protein thus functions in the maintenance of heterochromatin, and heterochromatin alterations may represent a driving force of human aging.

Science, this issue p. 1160; see also p. 1093


Werner syndrome (WS) is a premature aging disorder caused by WRN protein deficiency. Here, we report on the generation of a human WS model in human embryonic stem cells (ESCs). Differentiation of WRN-null ESCs to mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) recapitulates features of premature cellular aging, a global loss of H3K9me3, and changes in heterochromatin architecture. We show that WRN associates with heterochromatin proteins SUV39H1 and HP1α and nuclear lamina–heterochromatin anchoring protein LAP2β. Targeted knock-in of catalytically inactive SUV39H1 in wild-type MSCs recapitulates accelerated cellular senescence, resembling WRN-deficient MSCs. Moreover, decrease in WRN and heterochromatin marks are detected in MSCs from older individuals. Our observations uncover a role for WRN in maintaining heterochromatin stability and highlight heterochromatin disorganization as a potential determinant of human aging.

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