A team of scientists at Oregon State University has identified a gene in the human body that seems to be the master regulator for skin development.
According to researchers, their discovery could help address everything from skin diseases such as eczema or psoriasis to the wrinkling of skin as people age.
Scientists believe that inadequate or loss of expression of this gene, called CTIP2, may play a role in some skin disorders and understanding the mechanisms of gene action could provide a solution to them.
"We found that CTIP2 is a transcriptional factor that helps control different levels of skin development, including the final phase of a protective barrier formation," said Arup Indra, an OSU assistant professor of pharmacy.
"It also seems particularly important in lipid biosynthesis, which is relevant not only to certain skin diseases but also wrinkling and premature skin aging," Indra added.
Skin is actually the largest organ in the human body, and has important functions in protecting people from infection, toxins, microbes and solar radiation.
However, it's not static – skin cells are constantly dying and being replaced by new cells, to the extent that human skin actually renews its surface layers every three to four weeks. Wrinkles, in fact, are a reflection of slower skin regeneration that occurs naturally with aging.
In recent years, major advances have been made in understanding how skin develops in space and time, and in recent breakthroughs scientists learnt how to re-program adult skin cells into embryonic stem cells.
"When you think about therapies for skin disease or to address the effects of skin aging, basically you're trying to find ways to modulate the genetic network within cells and make sure they are doing their job," Indra said. "We now believe that CTIP2 might be the regulator that can do that. The next step will be to find ways to affect its expression."
The findings were recently published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.