Study: Skin's Fat Cells Protect Skin From Aging, Infection

What to Know

  • Staph and MRSA can cause a variety of problems ranging from skin infections and sepsis to pneumonia to bloodstream infections.

Fat cells deep in the skin play a role in how our skin ages and how it maintains its ability to fight infections, according to a study published Wednesday by UC San Diego researchers.

“We have discovered how the skin loses the ability to form fat during aging,” said Richard Gallo, MD, Ph.D., with the Department of Dermatology at UC San Diego School of Medicine.

Gallo was the senior author of a study published Wednesday in Immunity.

The study shows how specialized cells become fat cells and live under the skin. The cells not only create youthful looking skin but they also create a peptide that plays a role in fighting infections.

Researchers say they found a protein that stops those specialized cells from converting to fat cells, thus making the skin more susceptible to infections. It also makes the skin look less plump.

“Loss of the ability of fibroblasts to convert into fat affects how the skin fights infections and will influence how the skin looks during aging,” Gallo said in a UC San Diego news release.

A protein that controls many cellular functions is called transforming growth factor beta. In the study, researchers inhibited the protein in mice. As a result, the mice’s skin allowed the dermal fibroblasts to convert into fat cells and create the antimicrobial peptide cathelicidin.

The findings may determine how we can better fight infections like Staphylococcus aureus. We know that infection as MRSA when it becomes resistant to antibiotics. MRSA is the leading cause of death resulting from infection in the U.S.

The fat cells aren’t the answer necessarily. Carrying excess weight is not a solution, researchers say, as obesity also makes it difficult for the skin to fight infections.

Gallo believes the research may play a role in better understanding the infant immune system, obesity, diabetes, and autoimmune diseases.

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