Researchers at Washington State University have identified a genetic factor that allows adult skin to repair itself like the skin of a newborn baby. The discovery has implications for better treatment of skin wounds as well as for the prevention of part of the skin aging process.

In a study published in the journal eLife on September 29, researchers identified a genetic factor named “Lef1” which acts as a molecular switch in the skin of baby mice that controls the formation of hair follicles during the first week of pregnancy. life. The switch is mostly turned off after skin formation and remains off in adult tissues. When activated in specialized cells in adult mice, their skin was able to heal wounds without leaving scars. The reformed skin even included fur and could give goosebumps, an ability lost in adult human scars.

In a report posted on the university’s website, Dr Ryan Driskell, senior author and assistant professor at WSU’s School of Molecular Biosciences, said: “We were able to take advantage of the innate ability of young and newborn skin to regenerate and transfer this ability to skin. ” Mammals are not known for their regenerative abilities compared to other organisms, such as salamanders, which can regrow entire limbs and regenerate their skin.

“We can always be inspired by other organisms, but we can also learn more about regeneration by looking at ourselves. We generate new tissue, once in our lifetime, as we grow older,” he added.

Driskell’s team used a new technique called single-cell RNA sequencing to compare genes and cells in developing and adult skin. While growing the skin, they found a transcription factor – proteins that bind to DNA and can influence whether genes turn on or off.

The factor identified by the researchers was associated with papillary fibroblasts which develop cells in the papillary dermis, a layer of skin just below the surface that gives the skin its tension and youthful appearance.

Much work remains to be done before this latest finding in mice can be applied to human skin, but it is a fundamental breakthrough.

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