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Mapping system tells skin cells whether to become scalp, palm tissues, Stanford study finds

Stanford, Calif. -- Global-positioning system aficionados know that it's possible to precisely define any location in the world with just three geographic coordinates: latitude, longitude and altitude. Now scientists at the Stanford University School of Medicine have discovered that specialized skin cells use a similar mapping system to identify where they belong in the body and how to act once they arrive.

These cellular cornerstones direct embryonic patterning and wound healing by sending vital location cues to their neighbors, and may help in growing tissue for transplant or understanding metastatic cancer.

"There is a logic to the body that we didn't understand before," said John Rinn, PhD, a postdoctoral scholar in the laboratory of Howard Chang, MD, PhD, assistant professor of dermatology. "Our skin is actively maintaining itself throughout our life, and these 'address codes' help the cells know how to respond appropriately." Rinn is the first author of the research, which is published in the current issue of Public Library of Science-Genetics.

Until now it's been a mystery as to how adult skin, which consists of basically the same components all over the body, knows to grow hair in some areas like the scalp, while manufacturing sweat glands, calluses and fingerprint whorls in others. In 1969, well-known developmental biologist Lewis Wolpert authored a famous treatise that described two possible ways for cells to know where they are in the body: Either they infer their location and adjust their behavior based on interactions with nearby cells, or they deduce their "positional identity" through the use of some type of coordinate system. The findings from the new Stanford study bolster the second possibility.

The scientists analyzed the gene-expression profiles of adult fibroblasts from more than 40 areas of the body. They found about 400 genes whose expression patterns varied with the cells' original location. Those fr
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Contact: Krista Conger
kristac@stanford.edu
650-725-5371
Stanford University Medical Center
2-Aug-2006


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