Public Release: 

'Ghost Fibers' left by injured muscle cells guide stem cells to regenerate

New super-resolution technologies reveal muscle stem cells guided into place by 'ghosts' of damaged tissue

American Society for Cell Biology

SAN DIEGO, CA, Dec. 10, 2015 -- Ghosts are not your typical cell biology research subjects. But scientists at the Carnegie Institution for Science and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) who developed a technique to observe muscle stem/progenitor cells migrating within injury sites in live mice, report that 'ghost fibers,' remnants of the old extracellular matrix left by dying muscle fibers, guide the cells into position for healing to begin. Using intravital two-photon imaging combined with second-harmonic generation (SHG) microscopy, the Carnegie's Micah Webster and Chen-Ming Fan and the NICHD's Uri Manor and Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz observed these cells riding to the rescue, using the long axis of these ghost fibers to spread out and orient themselves. The study will be posted online by the journal Cell Stem Cell on Dec. 10, 2015 ahead of publication in the Feb. 4 issue. Webster will present the ghost fiber work at ASCB 2015 in San Diego on Dec. 13, 2015. (Full journal citation below)

This is the first direct visualization of skeletal muscle stem/progenitor cell-mediated regeneration in live mice, says Webster. It also shows the possibilities of combining high-resolution microscopy techniques such as two-photon imaging, which can visualize fluorescent markers at great depth in living tissue with another advanced technique, SHG imaging. SHG turns two photons into one but at half the original wavelength, avoiding problems with dye bleaching and signal saturation.

Combining the two techniques, the researchers were able to image activated muscle stem/progenitor cells moving bi-directionally along the long axis of individual ghost fibers left behind by the lost muscle cells. The stem/progenitor cells spread along the ghost fibers where they could divide, fuse, and fully differentiate into new muscles. When the researchers reoriented the ghost fibers, the regenerated muscle tissue was disorganized. Their direct observation of stem/progenitor cells in action showed ghost fibers playing an "architectural role" in regenerating muscle, says Webster, serving as templates proportioned for laying down new muscle tissue so as to match the same size and align to the same direction as the damaged portion.


Intravital Imaging Reveals Ghost Fibers as Architectural Units Guiding Muscle Progenitors During Skeletal Muscle Regeneration 1M.T. Webster, 2U. Manor, 2J. Lippincott-Schwartz, 1C. Fan 1Embryology, Carnegie Institution for Science, Baltimore, MD, 2NICHD, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD

Contact author:

Micah Webster

Author presents:

Minisymposium 01: Cell Migration in Tissues
Sunday, Dec. 13
6:05-6:12 pm
Ballroom 20 D

Poster Session:

Tissue Development and Morphogenesis 1
Sunday, Dec. 13
12:00 -1:30 pm
ASCB Learning Center

Journal citation:

Webster et al., Intravital Imaging Reveals Ghost Fibers as Architectural Units Guiding Myogenic Progenitors during Regeneration, Cell Stem Cell (2016),

Video link: 'IVM muscle regeneration'

Video explanation: Activated muscle stem/progenitor cells (white) moving within basal lamina remnants, 'ghost fibers' (red) which remain when muscle cells degenerate from injury.

A proof of the Cell Stem Cell paper is available from John Fleischman

For ASCB, contact: John Fleischman

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.