Skin “Remembers” Wounds, Heals Faster the Second Time Around

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FIX-IT-CREW: Epithelial stem cells (green) migrate into a wound in mouse skin to repair the damaged tissue barrier. SAMANTHA LARSEN, ELAINE FUCHS LAB/ROCKEFELLAR UNIVERSITY

The skin barrier is the body’s first line of defence against environmental assaults, and is maintained by epithelial stem cells (EpSCs). Despite the vulnerability of EpSCs to inflammatory pressures, neither the primary response to inflammation nor its enduring consequences are well understood. Here we report a prolonged memory to acute inflammation that enables mouse EpSCs to hasten barrier restoration after subsequent tissue damage. This functional adaptation does not require skin-resident macrophages or T cells. Instead, EpSCs maintain chromosomal accessibility at key stress response genes that are activated by the primary stimulus. Upon a secondary challenge, genes governed by these domains are transcribed rapidly. Fuelling this memory is Aim2, which encodes an activator of the inflammasome. The absence of AIM2 or its downstream effectors, caspase-1 and interleukin-1β, erases the ability of EpSCs to recollect inflammation. Although EpSCs benefit from inflammatory tuning by heightening their responsiveness to subsequent stressors, this enhanced sensitivity probably increases their susceptibility to autoimmune and hyperproliferative disorders, including cancer.

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Authors: Shruti Naik, Samantha B. Larsen, Nicholas C. Gomez, Kirill Alaverdyan, Ataman Sendoel, Shaopeng Yuan, Lisa Polak, Anita Kulukian, Sophia Chai & Elaine Fuchs