Newly discovered genetic factor lets adult skin repair itself like a newborn baby’s

Discovery in mice could have implications for better treatment of wounded skin, as well as leading to breakthroughs in cosmetics

A newly identified genetic factor allows adult skin to repair itself like the skin of a newborn, according to scientists at Washington State University.

The discovery has implications for better treatment of wounded skin as well as potential in the cosmetics field in developing anti-ageing products.

The study, published in journal eLife on 29 September, reveals that researchers at the Washington State University’s School of Molecular Biosciences identified a transcription factor called Lef1 that acts like a molecular switch in the skin of baby mice and which controls the formation of the hair follicles they develop during the first week of life.

This ‘switch’ is mostly turned off after the skin forms and remains turned off in adult tissue.

But, when activated in specialised cells in adult mice, their skin was able to heal wounds without scarring.

The reformed skin is said to include fur and could make goose bumps, said the researchers, noting that this ability is lost in adult human scars.

"We were able to take the innate ability of young, neonatal skin to regenerate and transfer that ability to old skin," said Ryan Driskell, Assistant Professor at WSU’s School of Molecular Biosciences, who led the research team.

"We have shown in principle that this kind of regeneration is possible."

Driskell's team used a new technique called single cell RNA sequencing to compare genes and cells in developing and adult skin.

Lef1 was found to be associated with papillary fibroblasts, which are developing cells in the papillary dermis, a layer of skin just below the surface that gives skin its tension and youthful appearance.

That said, Driskell stressed that a lot of work is needed before this latest discovery can be applied to human skin.