stem cells in their environment
wattlab in the news
14 May 2014
By Gernot Walko
Two recent publications from our lab have attracted the attention of the UK news media.
Research from Giacomo Donati and colleagues has revealed a hitherto unknown crosstalk between hair follicles and fat in skin. Hair follicle growth and formation of the fat layer are synchronised during skin development and in adult life. The combination of a high density of hairs and dermal fat protects the body from environmental insults, for example insulating from cold. Although factors secreted by fat cells have long been known to regulate the hair growth cycle, the study from Donati et al. now demonstrates that activation of epidermal Wnt/β-catenin signaling stimulates fat cell differentiation in vivo and in vitro. This effect can be mediated by secreted factors, including insulin-like growth factor 2 and bone morphogenetic proteins 2 and 6. The new discovery could be relevant to cancer, scar tissue formation and other pathological conditions in which this cellular crosstalk is altered.
The research was covered in the Telegraph and the full research paper can be found on the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences website.
A study from Sara Cipolat, Esther Hoste and colleagues provides evidence that defects in the skin caused by an inflammatory skin condition called eczema could reduce the risk of developing skin cancer. The immune response triggered by eczema appears to prevent tumour formation, and could help to identify new targets to treat skin cancer. Eczema can result from the loss of structural proteins in the outermost layers of the skin, leading to a defective skin barrier. Genetically engineered 'triple-knockout' mice lacking three skin barrier proteins were used in the study to replicate the skin defects found in eczema sufferers. Such mice were found to be highly resistant to developing benign tumours in response to carcinogenesis induced by application of two chemicals. The triple-knockout mice showed an exaggerated response to one of the chemicals, called TPA, inducing a strong inflammatory reaction that exhibited hallmarks of a skin response brought about by eczema (i.e. the skin became reddened and dry). In the future, it may be possible to harness some of the molecules identified in the study (in particular a protein called TSLP, which has been found in previous research to modify tumour formation and progression) to treat skin cancer.