Never mind facial masks and exfoliating scrubs, skin takes care of itself. Stem cells located within the skin actively generate differentiating cells that can ultimately form either the body surface or the hairs that emanate from it. In addition, these stem cells are able to replenish themselves, continually rejuvenating skin and hair. Now, researchers at Rockefeller University have identified two proteins that enable these skin stem cells to undertake this continuous process of self-renewal.
The work, published in Nature Genetics, brings new details to the understanding of how stem cells maintain — and lose — their status as stem cells and are able to specialize into various types of cells. It also further dissects a ubiquitous Rube Goldberg-like pathway whose molecular gears and levers play an important role in activating stem cells to divide and transform into tissue-making cells.
Lead researcher Elaine Fuchs, head of the Laboratory of Mammalian Cell Biology and Development, and first author Hoang Nguyen, a former postdoc in the lab, worked with mice engineered to lack the proteins TCF3 and TCF4, which reside in the nucleus of skin stem cells, where they bind to DNA to turn genes off that would otherwise cause the stem cells to differentiate. They found that without TCF3 and TCF4, all of the layers of the mice’s skin still develop properly, but they cannot be maintained.
“The epidermal stem cells — one of the types of stem cells in the skin — lose their capacity to self-renew and replace skin cells that have died,” says Nguyen, who is now an assistant (…)