Laboratory of Mammalian Cell Biology and Development

Elaine FuchsThe skin epidermis is what allows us to survive as terrestrial beings. It acts as a saran wrap seal to our body surface, excluding microbes and retaining body fluids. Subjected constantly to mechanical stress, epidermal cells protect themselves by producing an elaborate cytoskeleton that connect to specialized cellular junctions and enable the cells to form adhesive sheets of resilient tissue. The epidermis also produces protective appendages, such as feathers in birds, scales in fishes and hair follicles in mammals. Finally, in order for the epidermis to survive normal wear and tear as well as injuries, it must constantly self-renew, making it one of the body's reservoirs of stem cells. Given their proximity to the body surface, epidermal cells are also subjected to harmful UV rays, and not surprisingly, epidermal cancers are the most common of all human cancers.

In the Fuchs' laboratory, we are trying to understand how the multipotent stem cells of mammalian skin give rise to the epidermis and hair follicles. We study how skin epithelial cells respond to various external cues to coordinate changes in transcription, cell polarity, adhesion and cytoskeletal dynamics. Elucidating the normal process of tissue development is an important first step in understanding how these processes go awry in genetic skin diseases, including cancers. We are aided in our ability to grow human and mouse epidermal cells (keratinocytes) in the laboratory, and employ transgenic and knockout technologies in mice. In our research approaches, we utilize a broad range of techniques encompassing cell, molecular and developmental biology.

Please see epidermal sheet formation movie in our multimedia section.