Researchers reveal an ancient mechanism for wound repair

It’s a dangerous world out there. From bacteria and viruses to accidents and injuries, threats surround us all the time. And nothing protects us more steadfastly than our skin. The barrier between inside and out, the body’s largest organ is also its most seamless defense.

And yet the skin is not invincible. It suffers daily the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, and it tries to keep us safe by sensing and responding to these harms. A primary method is the detection of a pathogen, which kicks the immune system into action. But new research from the lab of Rockefeller’s Elaine Fuchs, published in Cell, reveals an alternative protective mechanism that responds to injury signals in wounded tissue — including low oxygen levels from blood vessel disruption and scab formation — and it doesn’t need an infection to get into gear.

The study is the first to identify a damage response pathway that is distinct from but parallel to the classical pathway triggered by pathogens.

At the helm of the response is interleukin-24 (IL24), whose gene is induced in skin epithelial stem cells at the wound edge. Once unleashed, this secreted protein begins to marshal a variety of different cells to begin the complex process of healing.

“IL24 is predominately made by the wound-edge epidermal stem cells, but many cells of the skin — the epithelial cells, the fibroblasts, and the endothelial cells — express the IL24 receptor and respond to the signal. IL24 becomes an orchestrator that coordinates tissue repair,” says Fuchs, head of the Robin Chemers Neustein Laboratory of Mammalian Cell Biology and Development

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