What Holds Skin Together?

A study by the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO) has demonstrated that interactions between skin stem cells maintain the architecture of skin. Skin stem cells are responsible for the constant renewal of the skin, and without the close connections between these cells, skin is unable to protect our bodies from the constant assaults from bacteria, chemicals, ultraviolet radiation, heat, cold, shear forces and so on.

A loss of proper adhesion between skin cells sometimes occurs during particular inflammatory diseases and cancer as well. This simple fact has stimulated interest in skin research.

Mirna Pérez-Moreno, who heads the Epithelial Cellular Biology Group that led this study, said, “We knew that these junctions [between skin stem cells] were important in skin stem cells but the cellular components involved in their structure and function were not yet understood.”

For this research, Pérez-Moreno and her team used skin stem cells from laboratory mice. They examined structures called “adherens junctions” between stem cells. Adherens junctions are found at the “apical” (or top) surface of the cells, and they hold cells together. Without adherens junctions, cells would fail to stick together properly.

Adherens junctionCellJunctions

Pérez-Moreno and her team discovered that one of the central structures in skin stem cells that stabilized adherens junctions were microtubules. Microtubules are stiff, tube-like structures that act as rebar-like reinforcement for cells and help cells maintain their shape, form, and structure.


Marta Shahbazi, a member of Pérez-Moreno’s research group, said,” We have seen for the first time that skin stem cell microtubules connect with cell-cell junctions to form velcro-like structures that hold the cells together.”

The microtubules and the adherens junctions are stuck together by means an interaction between two proteins, the CLASP2 and p120 catenin proteins.

“We found that the absence of CLASP2 or p120 catenin in epidermal stem cells caused a loss of their adhesion , and therefore the structure of these cells,” said Shahbazi.

“Our results will open up new paths for exploring how these proteins regulate skin physiology,” said Perez-Moreno. She also added that such knowledge will be important for the possible development of future regenerative medical treatments or anti-cancer treatments.