Cell Changes Mean Skin Changes
We know that the aging process changes everything - our hair begins to turn gray and fall out, our waistlines may thicken, our bones get brittle and our eyesight worsens. Our skin also changes as we age. As we get older, changes to the skin become more evident as the skin loses its elasticity, gets thinner and looks older. But what causes the skin to age so dramatically?
Some Spanish scientists may have the answer.
Researchers at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) and the Centro Nacional de Análisis Genómico of the Center for Genomic Regulation (CNAG-CRG) have identified what they believe to be a critical part of the aging process: fibroblast cells losing their identity with age.
Fibroblasts are cells that manufacture and maintain connective tissues, such as collagen and elastin. Collagen and other connective tissues provide a structural framework to support the organs, and in the case of the skin, serve as a protective barrier against the outside environment and germs.
Fibroblasts also secrete fibrous proteins and ground substance, a type of gelatinous extracellular matrix material that fills in the gaps and spaces between the fibers and cells in the body.
Fibroblasts also help to give connective tissue its strength and structure. This structure is what holds organs and tissues in place.
When the production of new cells slows down or screeches to a halt, there are negative consequences for the skin.
Which is what researchers noticed during their study. They found that as fibroblasts get older, they "forget" what they are and how they are supposed to behave.
"When collagen production slows down, the skin loses its ability to stretch and retract. This means it is at risk of developing lines, creases and wrinkles," said Dr. Bill Johnson, a Dallas, Texas, cosmetic physician.
It also means that the skin begins to sag and hang loose.
"When collagen production slows down, people begin to notice that their jawline starts to sag and jowls form, the skin is not as taut on the face, and the skin around the neck starts to droop," Johnson said.
A reduction in collagen production means that skin not only is more susceptible to aging, but also that it does not repair itself as it used to.
"Injuries to the skin as we get older have a greater risk of scarring and infection compared to when we are younger," Johnson said.
These injuries can include anything from a simple cut to acne and surgical wounds.
Increased risk of infection is especially severe for seniors and those living with certain health conditions.
Researchers hope to reduce the risks associated with changes in collagen production by further analyzing fibroblast behavior and the process that causes the cells to cease normal function. By understanding cell behavior, the researchers believe they can understand more about the aging process and how to slow it down or even stop it altogether.
The study is unique; the researchers believe that it is the first of its kind to identify loss of cell identity as a potential trigger for the aging process. During their research, they also found that not only do the fibroblasts lose their identity, but they also take on characteristics of adipocytes, or fat cells.
The researchers believe their study can lead to new frontiers in cosmetic applications and anti-aging treatments. They also hope that they can use their knowledge to help develop new therapies to help aged skin heal faster.
Center for Genomic Regulation. "Skin ages when the main cells in the dermis lose their identity and function." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 November 2018.