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Master gene controls healing of skin in fruit flies and mammals

University of California, San Diego biologists and their colleagues have discovered that the genetic system controlling the development and repair of insect cuticle--the outer layer of the body surface in insects--also controls these processes in mammalian skin, a finding that could lead to new insights into the healing of wounds and treatment of cancer.

The UCSD biologists' study, published April 15 in the journal Science identifies a master gene called grainyhead that activates wound repair genes in the cells surrounding an injury in the cuticle of a fly embryo. These wound repair genes then regenerate the injured patch of cuticle.

In a separate study published in the same issue of Science, a team of researchers led by Stephen Jane at the Royal Melbourne Hospital in Melbourne, Australia report that, although insect cuticle and the outer layer of mammal skin are very different chemically, the grainyhead gene is also essential for normal skin development and wound repair in mice.

"The discovery that grainyhead-like factors are required for the response to injury opens up new avenues of research in the field of wound healing," said Kimberly Mace, the first author of the UCSD paper. "It also opens new avenues for cancer research, since many cancer cells activate genes normally involved in wound healing in order to kick start processes such as cell division and cell migration."

Mace, a former graduate student of biology professor William McGinnis, who led the UCSD team, became interested in the healing of insect cuticle when she noticed lesions in the cuticle of certain fruit fly mutants. She suspected that the lesions were scar tissue resulting from the failure of the body surface barrier to develop properly. Confirming her suspicions, the mutant embryos turned out to be much more permeable to a dye than normal embryos.

The group also showed that the genes active in the mutant flies' lesions were activated in normal flies in cell
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Source:University of California - San Diego


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