Clearing Out Senescent Cells Rejuvenates Human Skin

The cells regained many of their lost capabilities.


Using a novel senolytic drug, scientists have successfully eliminated senescent cells in human skin transplanted into mice. The treatment led to prolonged skin rejuvenation [1].

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Senescence and senolytics

Senescent cells, also known as β€œzombie cells”, are cells that have stopped proliferating after being subjected to any of several types of stress (replicative, chemical, radiational, etc.) but evade clearance by the immune system. Such cells secrete the senescence-associated secretory phenotype (SASP), a cocktail of mostly harmful molecules that harm neighboring cells, driving more of them towards senescence and promoting inflammation. Cellular senescence is one of the hallmarks of aging.

Clearing away senescent cells with senolytics is a popular emerging strategy in the longevity field, but creating effective therapies have proved tricky. However, attempts continue, as evidenced by this new study coming from Japan.

Clearing out senescent fibroblasts in vitro

The researchers experimented with a recently discovered senolytic, which has a long chemical name shortened to BPTES. It works by inhibiting the enzyme glutaminase, which is essential for the survival of senescent cells [2]. Their goal was to see whether BPTES can effectively target senescent human skin cells in vitro and in vivo and whether clearing out those cells can lead to actual skin rejuvenation.

For their in vitro experiments, the researchers used human fibroblasts. Skin is thought to be one of the organs most affected by cellular senescence, with 15-60% of fibroblasts in the skin of aging mice being senescent [3]. Senescent cells are not always harmful. They play a role in wound healing [4], which is obviously important when it comes to skin, but with age, the β€œdark side” of senescent cells prevails.

The researchers induced senescence in the fibroblasts by three different method: replication, radiation, and treatment with doxorubicin, a chemotherapy drug. Such thoroughness is required, because senescence phenotypes differ significantly. The researchers then confirmed that some of the fibroblasts became senescent.

Here again, three different popular markers were used: senescence-associated ß-galactosidase (SA-ß-gal), p16, and p21. For additional robustness, senescence was also confirmed using morphological analysis, as senescent cells are generally larger and flatter than healthy cells. Another assay confirmed that proliferation levels in the culture had dropped as expected.

BPTES was used in different doses to eliminate the senescent fraction of the fibroblasts. The effect on the senescent cells was dose dependent. The highest dose decreased senescent cell viability almost to zero while barely affecting the viability of non-senescent cells, which shows both high efficacy and high specificity.

Rejuvenating human skin… in mice

To investigate the effect of BPTES on actual aged human skin, the researchers transplanted patches of it into naked mice. Prior to the transplantation, the samples were stained for senescence markers, which showed an abundance of senescent cells. The researchers then treated the transplants with BPTES and followed up for one month.

The treatment drastically reduced the number of cells that tested positive for SA-ß-gal, p16, and p21. Importantly, the levels of cellular senescence remained low even after a month of follow-up, indicating a protracted effect. The researchers also measured the proliferation marker Ki67 and saw a very significant increase in the rate of cell division following the treatment. BPTES also attenuated the levels of several SASP molecules that were elevated in the skin prior to transplantation (metalloproteinases and the inflammatory cytokines IL-1a, IL6, and TNFα).

Collagen density, which determines skin elasticity and decreases with age, was significantly increased by the treatment, as shown by histological analysis. The mRNA expression of Col1A1, the gene that produces type I collagen, was more than twice as high in the treated transplants than in controls. Moreover, collagen levels remained high during the month-long follow-up. This suggests that senolysis might be a viable strategy for long-term skin rejuvenation.

Skin Senolytics


In this study, the researchers were able to cause an impressive reduction of cellular senescence in human skin both in vitro and in vivo. The treatment had a protracted rejuvenative effect on aged human skin samples transplanted into mice. It is easy to see how this can lead to actual human trials in the near future.

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[1] Takaya, K., Ishii, T., Asou, T., & Kishi, K. (2022). Glutaminase inhibitors rejuvenate human skin via clearance of senescent cells: a study using a mouse/human chimeric model. Aging, 14.

[2] Johmura, Y., Yamanaka, T., Omori, S., Wang, T. W., Sugiura, Y., Matsumoto, M., … & Nakanishi, M. (2021). Senolysis by glutaminolysis inhibition ameliorates various age-associated disorders. Science, 371(6526), 265-270.

[3] Wang, C., Jurk, D., Maddick, M., Nelson, G., Martin-Ruiz, C., & Von Zglinicki, T. (2009). DNA damage response and cellular senescence in tissues of aging mice. Aging cell, 8(3), 311-323.

[4] Wilkinson, H. N., & Hardman, M. J. (2020). Senescence in wound repair: emerging strategies to target chronic healing wounds. Frontiers in cell and developmental biology, 8, 773.

About the author
Arkadi Mazin

Arkadi Mazin

Arkadi is a seasoned journalist and op-ed author with a passion for learning and exploration. His interests span from politics to science and philosophy. Having studied economics and international relations, he is particularly interested in the social aspects of longevity and life extension. He strongly believes that life extension is an achievable and noble goal that has yet to take its rightful place on the very top of our civilization’s agenda – a situation he is eager to change.
  1. jimofoz
    December 13, 2022

    Could these mouse models be used to test Revel’s gluscosepane breaking enzyme? Would a combination of glucosepane and seneescent cell removal in the skin make people look younger?

    • Steve Hill
      December 15, 2022

      That is certainly one possible outcome, Jim. Here’s hoping this can be tested.

      • andranikaaa
        January 7, 2023

        There is a possibility that prolonged increase in Col1A1 expression may lead to scleroderma/rheumatoid arthritis like consequences.

  2. Phil Goetz
    December 22, 2022

    I’d listen to the article if I could download the mp3 file.

  3. Phil Goetz
    December 22, 2022

    The big question is whether glutaminase plays an important role in skin. What happens if we knock glutaminase out completely from skin tissue?

    Glutaminase is necessary in the gastrointestinal tract, which derives from the same endoderm and mesoderm as the skin. It could be that it’s expressed in the skin only because no mechanism evolved to de-activate it in skin after differentiation from gut.

    That also makes it challenging to knock it out completely from skin. But fortunately, we can touch the skin, so we could for example make a mouse with a tet repressor operon that suppressed glutaminase, then administer tetracycline through the skin, check that it’s suppressed in skin and not in gut (nor brain, kidney, or liver), and see if this has any obvious ill effect on the mouse.

    • Phil Goetz
      December 22, 2022

      (Check that /glutaminase/ is suppressed in skin, that is.)

    • m971668
      January 9, 2023

      How does this affect the hair root bulb size? Benefits for androgenic alopecia?

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