Study suggest that protein named COL17A1 is capable of keeping skin intact and unimpaired by encouraging cell competition, a key process to maintain tissue fitness.
Ageing results in a depletion of COL17A1, similar to factors such as UV radiation and other stress factors. During this process, weak cells replicate, leaving the skin thinner, more prone to damage, and slower to heal. The COL17A1 protein found to effectively drive out weaker cells while supporting replication of stronger ones. “Damaged or stressed stem cells can be selectively eliminated by intact stem cells every day in our skin,” said Emi Nishimura, a professor at the Tokyo Medical and Dental University’s Stem Cell Biology department, who led the research.
The research published in the journal Nature on April 4, 2019, is based on investigations using mice tails, which share similar characteristics as human skin. After confirming the importance of COL17A1, the team investigated whether they could stimulate the protein once it was depleted—effectively looking for compounds that could kick start the anti-ageing process in skin. As a part of an experiment, team isolated two chemical compounds — Y27632 and apocynin — and examined them on skin cells.
“Application of these drugs to full-thickness skin wounds significantly promoted wound repair. The two compounds point to ways of facilitating skin regeneration and reducing skin ageing,” the study reported. In a review of the study commissioned by Nature, two professors from the University of Colorado said cell competition had previously only been studied extensively in fruit flies. This work could eventually lead to products such as creams or tablets that could stop skin deterioration and promote repair. However, further research is required to investigate whether the same process might also be at work in other parts of the body that have epithelial cells similar to skin.