18.04.2018 change 18.04.2018

Researchers from Olsztyn identified the gene responsible for scar wound healing

Photo: Institute of Animal Reproduction and Food Research PAS in Olsztyn Photo: Institute of Animal Reproduction and Food Research PAS in Olsztyn

Pioneering research of scientists from the Institute of Animal Reproduction and Food Research PAS in Olsztyn allowed to identify the gene responsible for the formation of post-traumatic scars. This discovery may help in the treatment of scars and non-healing wounds.

The results of Olsztyn scientists` research may also help develop therapies that will allow to redirect from scar healing to scar-free healing (regeneration).

Prof. Barbara Gawrońska-Kozak explains that for five years her research group: Joanna Bukowska, Anna Kur-Piotrowska, Marta Kopcewicz and Katarzyna Walendzik from the Laboratory of Regeneration Biology of the Institute of Animal Reproduction and Food Research PAS has been conducts research on mechanisms responsible for scarring and scarless healing of skin injuries.

These studies have shown that the unique healing ability (regeneration) of the skin occurs in a special type of mouse, the so-called naked mice. The mechanism responsible for this biological phenomenon is a mutation (inactivity) of one gene - Foxn1. Interestingly, in both mice and humans, the Foxn1 gene occurs only in two areas of the body: in the skin and thymus (organ that disappears during development), explains Prof. Gawrońska-Kozak.

"The question we posed a few years ago was: Is it possible that this single gene is responsible for scar formation? The information available at the time concerned the function of the Foxn1 gene in the thymus, few papers focused on its presence in the skin, and there were no studies on its participation in the healing of skin wounds" - emphasises the scientist.

In their pioneer research, scientists from Olsztyn used fluorescent labelling to study the Foxn1 gene in mice. "The ability to trace the green dye based on its fluorescence in the wounded skin combined with very advanced, state-of-the-art research methods has shown that this gene does participate in the scar healing process" - says Prof. Gawrońska-Kozak.

Her team was the first in the world to show that the increase in Foxn1 gene activity is stimulated by reduced oxygen availability (so-called hypoxia), i.e. conditions that naturally occur during the healing of skin injuries.

"The results of our research were published in prestigious international scientific journals in a series of five papers, and on April 3, 2018 our paper appeared in the journal Scientific Reports published by Nature Publishing Group, the most prestigious scientific publisher in the world" - she adds.

Researchers from the Institute of Animal Reproduction and Food Research PAS in Olsztyn also conduct research on human skin tissues collected in a tissue bank. "Interestingly, our pilot and very preliminary studies conducted on human skin samples confirm the observations in the skin of mice. It turns out that in post-traumatic (scar) tissues there is a higher +scar gene+ Foxn1 activity compared to uninjured/healthy skin" - describes Barbara Gawrońska-Kozak. One of the current research directions of the Olsztyn research group is to show the relationship between individual age and Foxn1 activity.

Prof. Gawrońska-Kozak emphasises that it is extraordinary that in people at a very early stage of life (in foetal life) skin wounds heal without any scars. Surgeries performed in children in the womb until the end of the second trimester of pregnancy leave no traces, whereas when the child is operated on in the later weeks of pregnancy, there are visible scars. An interesting fact is that redirecting scarless healing to scar healing coincides with the activation of Foxn1 - the "scar gene".

In the future, the research conducted in the Laboratory of Regenerative Biology may enable the treatment of non-healing wounds, for example in patients with diabetes. It can also help in the treatment of patients, in whom wounds leave extensive and problematic scars.

"Because the so-called +scar gene+ Foxn1 that we study is found in adult organisms almost exclusively in the skin, future research may allow to regulate its activity without adversely affecting other organs" - adds Prof. Gawrońska-Kozak.

PAP - Science in Poland, Agnieszka Libudzka

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