Cell binding discovery brings hope to those with skin and heart problems

Jan 21, 2011

A University of Manchester scientist has revealed the mechanism that binds skin cells tightly together, which he believes will lead to new treatments for painful and debilitating skin diseases and also lethal heart defects.

Professor David Garrod, in the Faculty of Life Sciences, has found that the glue molecules bind only to similar glue molecules on other cells, making a very tough, resilient structure. Further investigation on why the molecules bind so specifically could lead to the development of clinical applications.

Professor Garrod, whose Medical Research Council-funded work is paper of the week in the (JBC) today, said: "Our skin is made up of three different layers, the outermost of which is the epidermis. This layer is only about 1/10th of a millimetre thick yet it is tough enough to protect us from the outside environment and withstand the wear and tear of everyday life.

"One reason our epidermis can do this is because its cells are very strongly bound together by tiny structures called desmosomes, sometimes likened to rivets. We know that people who have defects in their desmosomes have problems with their epidermis and get extremely unpleasant skin diseases. Understanding how desmosomes function is essential for developing better treatments for these and other types of and for non-healing wounds.

"Desmosomes are also extremely important in locking together the of the heart, and hearts where desmosomes are defective can fail catastrophically, causing sudden death in young people.

Hence our findings may also be relevant in the heart and in developing new treatments for heart disease."

ProfessorGarrod and his team, Zhuxiang Nie, Anita Merritt, Mansour Rouhi and Lydia Tabernero, used chemical cross-linking to study cells of the epidermis and found what they believe to be the principal mechanism by which the glue molecules of desmosomes of bind to each other.

"For reasons that we do not fully understand there are several different but closely-related glue molecules within each desmosome," he explained.

"Our results show that each glue molecule on one cell binds primarily to another of the same type on the neighbouring cell, meaning the binding is highly specific. This was very surprising because previous studies using different techniques had not been able to give such a clear answer on the specificity of binding."

He added: "Our result suggests that this type of specific binding is of fundamental importance in locking together of the epidermis into a tough, resilient structure. It is an important step forward in our research, which aims to develop better treatments for non-healing wounds, other skin diseases and heart problems. We could do this if we understood how to make medicines that would lock or unlock the desmosomes as required."

Explore further: Video: How did life on Earth begin?

More information: 'Membrane-impermeable crosslinking provides evidence for homophilic, isoform-specific binding of desmosomal cadherins in epithelial cells' is published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

Related Stories

From managing sugar to managing healing

Dec 10, 2006

Insulin is a hormone known primarily for regulating sugar levels in the blood, yet researchers at the University of California, Riverside, recently found that applying insulin directly to skin wounds significantly enhanced ...

Italians rebuild and graft human skin

Mar 02, 2006

Italian physicians in Rome say they've used stem cells to rebuild human skin and repair tissue damage -- the first time such a feat has been accomplished.

Study uses bone marrow stem cells to regenerate skin

Jan 14, 2009

A new study suggests that adult bone marrow stem cells can be used in the construction of artificial skin. The findings mark an advancement in wound healing and may be used to pioneer a method of organ reconstruction. The ...

Recommended for you

Chemical biologists find new halogenation enzyme

17 hours ago

Molecules containing carbon-halogen bonds are produced naturally across all kingdoms of life and constitute a large family of natural products with a broad range of biological activities. The presence of halogen substituents ...

Protein secrets of Ebola virus

22 hours ago

The current Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa, which has claimed more than 2000 lives, has highlighted the need for a deeper understanding of the molecular biology of the virus that could be critical in ...

Protein courtship revealed through chemist's lens

22 hours ago

Staying clear of diseases requires that the proteins in our cells cooperate with one another. But, it has been a well-guarded secret how tens of thousands of different proteins find the correct dancing partners ...

Decoding 'sweet codes' that determine protein fates

Sep 15, 2014

We often experience difficulties in identifying the accurate shape of dynamic and fluctuating objects. This is especially the case in the nanoscale world of biomolecules. The research group lead by Professor Koichi Kato of ...

User comments : 0