Many women spend hundreds of dollars on different lotions and potions in their quest for youthful-looking skin. But the secret to a line-free complexion could come from within your own cells, according to scientists.
Crow’s feet and creases may be reversible using a treatment to regenerate the fatty cells – which are lost with age – that keep skin looking smooth. The technique could also pave the way for the scar-free healing of wounds, the US researchers said.
Fat cells found in skin, called adipocytes, are lost when scars form and as a result of aging. Lack of adipocytes is one of the main reasons deep wrinkles become etched on our faces as we get older.
Research on tissue grown in the lab found that hair follicles were crucial in keeping healing skin scar-free and smooth, by releasing a signalling molecule called bone morphogenetic protein, or BMP.
This was found to instruct scar-forming cells called myofibroblasts, often seen in healing wounds, to transform themselves into adipocytes. And although the research focused on scarring, the discovery, reported in the journal Science, could have much wider implications.
Professor George Cotsarelis, of the University of Pennsylvania, explained: ‘Our findings can potentially move us toward a new strategy to regenerate adipocytes in wrinkled skin, which could lead us to brand new anti-aging treatments.
Essentially, we can manipulate wound healing so that it leads to skin regeneration rather than scarring.
‘The secret is to regenerate hair follicles first. After that, the fat will regenerate in response to the signals from those follicles.’
Adipocyte loss is a natural part of aging, but can also be a complication of certain medical conditions, such as HIV infection. Professor Cotsarelis added: ‘Typically, myofibroblasts were thought to be incapable of becoming a different type of cell.
‘But our work shows we have the ability to influence these cells, and that they can be efficiently and stably converted into adipocytes.’
Tests were conducted on both mouse and human scar-forming tissue, grown under laboratory conditions.
The study’s lead author Dr Maksim Plikus, of the University of California, Irvine, said the discovery could also lead to new treatments to stop scarring after someone sustains an injury.
‘The findings show we have a window of opportunity after wounding to influence the tissue to regenerate rather than scar,’ he said. Professor Cotsarelis’s team is now carrying out further research on the mechanisms that promote skin regeneration, especially with respect to hair follicles.
Meanwhile, Dr Plikus’s laboratory is studying additional aspects of cell reprogramming in skin wounds. Researchers are examining the role of other signalling molecules beyond BMP, as well as conducting further studies using human cells and scar tissue.