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Scientists Uncover a Protein That Seems to Fight Aging in Our Skin

The fountain of youth may flow in our skin.

By Megan Schmidt
Apr 5, 2019 1:26 AMMay 23, 2020 10:00 PM
Woman Skin Aging Lotion - Shutterstock
(Credit: Rustle/Shutterstock)


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In the quest for everlasting youth, many women buy hope in a jar. But despite being a multi-billion dollar industry, many skin creams and serums on the market don’t deliver the age-defying results they promise. But now, scientists say that it may be possible to reverse our skin's timeline at the cellular level.

In a new paper published in Nature, a research team found that a collagen protein called COL17A1 plays a key role in maintaining youthful skin. Declining levels of this protein over time cause our skin to develop wrinkles, sag, and lose its elasticityaccording to the paper. It's giving scientists fresh insights into how and why time changes the building blocks of our skin.  The team based their study on mice tails, but they say that tail skin shares many of the same characteristics as human skin.

Forever Young

The idea that the strong survive and the weak perish is found throughout nature. But it also plays a role in our skin's rejuvenation process. Skin continually rebuilds itself and produces new cells. And, it seems that COL17A1 is instrumental in ensuring that stronger skin cells survive.

The scientists say that COL17A1 helps promote the replication of stronger skin cells, pushing out weaker cells. But time and DNA damage, acquired from skin stressors like sun exposure or smoking, causes COL17A1 levels to decline.

As a result, weaker cells take over and produce skin that’s thinner, more frail and slower to heal from wounds. But the researchers found that boosting COL17A1 through genetic modification helped skin curb the effects of aging.

In addition to discovering the importance of COL17A1 in the skin’s aging process, the team also found that it was possible to stimulate COL17A1 production by applying two chemical compounds to skin cells — Y27632 and apocynin.

The researchers say these compounds improved skin regeneration and wound healing. The work could eventually lead to new creams or lotions that could fight aging and speed up wound healing. And the researchers say that their findings could provide a path to understanding how cell competition plays a role in how other organs age.

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