It took almost 10 years for Elaine Fuchs, Ph.D., a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at Rockefeller University, to find a postdoctoral fellow who shared her curiosity for the direction of cell divisions in the skin. Then Terry Lechler, Ph.D., came along and the result is a new paper published online last week in Nature detailing how asymmetric cell divisions are essential for skin development. Their findings challenge long standing ideas of how skin forms and functions and is one of the first documentations of asymmetric cell division in mammals.
The epidermis of the skin forms multiple layers, the outermost of which is at the body surface. The bottom, or basal, layer is attached to an underlying matrix, called a basement membrane, which contains many growth stimulating molecules. As cells move from the basal layer toward the surface, they differentiate and produce protective proteins before they finally die and are sloughed off.
"The epidermis creates a Saran Wrap seal for our body surface, keeping fluids in and harmful bacteria out," says Fuchs, who is the Rebecca C. Lancefield Professor and head of the Laboratory of Mammalian Cell Biology at Rockefeller. "Through experiments in cell culture in the 1980s, everyone believed that the epidermis maintained its protective function by ejecting cells from the basal layer and forcing them upward. Our data show that asymmetric divisions occur perpendicular to the basal layer, resulting in one of the two daughter cells being naturally displaced out of the basal layer. This opens up new ways to approach the pathology of different skin diseases and provides an explanation for how stem cells might generate one new stem cell and one differentiating cell at the same time."
Kristine A. Kelly | EurekAlert!
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