American researchers have identified one of the processes responsible for the ageing of our skin. This is a discovery that bodes well for major advances in immunology and could help us to understand the mechanisms linked to various health conditions such as obesity, diabetes and even some auto-immune diseases.
In case we don’t ever get our hands on the ‘Fountain of Youth’, scientists have managed to identify one of the processes responsible for the ageing of our skin. But is this the first step towards achieving many people’s dream of eternal youth? Probably not… Instead, it is actually an incredible advance in science for understanding one of our body’s best kept secrets: how our immune system works.
‘We have discovered how the skin loses its ability to produce fat during aging,’ reveals a professor in the Department of Dermatology at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine in the United States and co-author of a study that has just been published in the journal Immunity, Richard Gallo in a statement. The gradual degradation of a very important cutaneous function and whose consequence is twofold, as Richard Gallo explain:
‘Loss of capacity of fibroblasts [a type of connective tissue cells also known as support cells] to turn into fat affects how skin fights infections and influences the appearance of skin during ageing.’ This is caused by a protein known as TGF-ß, also known as ‘Transforming growth factor beta’.
Mice with ‘baby’s skin’
In experiments conducted in labs, researchers gave mice chemicals that were able to block the metabolic pathway of this famous TGF-ß protein. They also genetically manipulated some of them to lead to the same metabolic blockage. As a result, the fibroblasts of small mammals were found to be ‘rejuvenated’, covering their initial capacity for transformation into fat cells, or adipocytes. A real makeover for the skin of these rodents.
‘The skin that has an underlying layer of fat looks younger. When we get older, the appearance of the skin has a lot to do with fat loss,’ says Richard Gallo. So, this could be the secret to having ‘baby’s skin’, but also the answer to why the body resists certain infections.
From ageing to skin infections
The loss of capacity of fibroblasts to transform into fat cells is indeed accompanied by a decrease in the production of an antimicrobial peptide. The skin thus becomes more vulnerable to pathogens, and in particular to one of them, known as Staphylococcus aureus, or S. aureus. A bacterium related to disorders such as eczema.
‘The long-term goals and interests of this research are to understand the infantile immune system,’ reveals Richard Gallo.
This is a great way for scientists to understand more about the mechanisms responsible for some autoimmune diseases, but also more about disorders such as diabetes or obesity. So, scientists have made a great step forward in the world of immunology if we don’t ever find the ‘Fountain of youth’.