Expression of 'Blimp1' gene leads to the discovery of cells responsible for skin's sebaceous gland

Mice may not get zits, but they do have oily skin. This week, new research on mice from Rockefeller University shows how the cells responsible for oil production develop, and uncovers clues about how stem cells renew and differentiate.

The research focuses on the skins sebaceous gland, which is linked to the hair shaft and secretes an oily mixture called sebum. But until today how the sebaceous gland is formed during development was a matter of debate: one group of scientists proposed that skin stem cells produce the gland and a second group suggested that it had its own progenitor cells. In new research, published in the August 11 issue of Cell, Elaine Fuchs, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at Rockefeller University, settles this argument, showing that at the site where the sebaceous gland adjoins the hair follicle, a unique population of cells exists whose sole job is to make, and maintain, the sebaceous gland.

"We were exploring the expression of a transcription factor called Blimp1, which had surfaced in a genetic screen that we had conducted." explains Fuchs, who is the Rebecca C. Lancefield Professor and head of the Laboratory of Mammalian Cell Biology and Development at Rockefeller. "We were surprised to find that Blimp1 was expressed in a small population of cells within the sebaceous gland. We knew these cells were skin keratinocytes but no one had ever described their existence and therefore, we had no clues about their relationship to the gland."

Valerie Horsley, a postdoc in the Fuchs lab and first author of the paper, had been interested in Blimp1s role in hair follicle development, and had engineered mice that were missing the Blimp1 gene in their skin. "When the mice were born, they formed normal hair follicles, which was quite disappointing," says Horsley. "But when they were around one month of age I noticed that the mice starte

Contact: Kristine Kelly
Rockefeller University

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