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Short RNA strand helps exposed skin cells protect body from bacteria, dehydration and even cancer
Date:3/2/2008

Every minute, 30,000 of our outermost skin cells die so that we can live. When they do, new cells migrate from the inner layer of the skin to the surface of it, where they form a tough protective barrier. In a series of elegant experiments in mice, researchers at Rockefeller University have now discovered a tiny RNA molecule that helps create this barrier. The results not only yield new insight into how skin first evolved, but also suggest how healthy cells can turn cancerous.

Hundreds of these tiny RNA molecules, called microRNAs, are expressed in skin, "But there was something curious about one in particular, microRNA-203," says Rui Yi, a postdoc who works with Elaine Fuchs, head of the Laboratory of Mammalian Cell Biology and Development. "As an embryo develops, the expression of microRNA-203 jumps very quickly over just two days. From being barely detectable at day 13, this microRNA becomes the most abundant expressed in skin," says Yi, whose work will be published as an advance online publication in Nature March 2. MicroRNAs, which were discovered in mammals in 2001, regulate genes outside of the cell's nucleus.

Yi and Fuchs, who is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and Rebecca C. Lancefield Professor at Rockefeller, found that during the 13th day of development, mouse skin is primarily composed of undifferentiated stem cells. Two days later, these stem cells exit the inner layer of the skin and begin to differentiate into cells that form the outermost, protective layer. MicroRNA-203's expression skyrockets precisely during this period, suggesting that it plays some key role in the barrier's development.

In order to figure out its role, Yi and Fuchs needed to pinpoint exactly where microRNA-203 is expressed. Other microRNAs have been found to be specific to heart and muscle tissues; some exist almost exclusively in the brain. However, this microRNA was found only in very specific types of skin -- stratified ep
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Contact: Thania Benios
tbenios@rockefeller.edu
212-327-7146
Rockefeller University
Source:Eurekalert  

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