Day 255. A skinny post

In April 2013 on April 24, 2013 at 10:07 am


No, not skinny meaning lack of fat. Skinny meaning of the skin.

Move over kids, there’s a new skin cell in town.

Although their proper title is skin ILC2 cellsI’m going to call them SKILLS. Just ’cause it’s easier…and more fun.

So SKILLS. What are they, and why does it matter?

SKILLS were recently discovered in the skin of mice, where they are believed to crawl about and regulate other populations of immune cells. In particular, their main day-to-day job seems to be keeping so-called mast cells under control. This is important – unruly mast cells can trigger inflammation. This sort of inflammation is good if you have a parasitic skin infection – it helps get rid of worms for example – but not so good if you’re living in a low-parasite environment like most of us in ‘Western’ communities do.

This is where my personal interest kicks in.

If mast cells somehow avoid or deflect the influence of SKILLS  even when there are no parasites around, this means swelling, itchiness, redness and pain for no good reason. And indeed, the same study shows that if you change SKILLS so they interact with other skin cells differently, mice develop spontaneous inflammatory skin conditions. Kinda like mouse excema.

To summarise then:

  • Normal SKILLS keep skin inflammation under control, and
  • SKILLS which are tickled to change the way they behave allow a cycle of excema-like inflammation to begin.

As the mother of a beautiful three-year old whose excema has challenged my sanity over the past few years, I tend to get pretty excited about any new discoveries which might help our understanding of inflammatory skin conditions like excema.

Of course, it’s early days yet, and this is just one animal study. But it’s a start.

Because this paper has been published in the very high calibre journal Nature Immunology, it’s sure to initiate a whole lot of new research projects in other immunology laboratories around the world. Some of these studies will be in mice, but others will investigate whether similar systems are operating in humans.

And although his behaviour is animalistic at times, my kid definitely is a human.

[image of skin thanks to kevin dooley on flickr]


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