Skip to Main Content

Laboratory of Mammalian Cell Biology and Development

Elaine Fuchs

The 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 connects to specialized cellular junctions and enables 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. Human skin has evolved to have sweat glands, enabling us to regulate body temperature and survive over broader climates than other mammals. To withstand normal wear and tear, epidermis constantly self-renews, making it one of the body's main reservoirs of stem cells. When the skin’s barrier is breached in injury, epidermal stem cells must also communicate with resident immune cells to repair the damaged tissue and prevent infection. Finally, at the body’s surface, skin stem 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 stem cells of mammalian skin give rise to the epidermis, hair follicles and sweat glands. We study how skin stem cells respond to different signals from their environment and orchestrate the changes in chromatin, transcription, translation, cell polarity, adhesion and cytoskeletal dynamics in normal skin development, homeostasis and wound repair. Elucidating the normal process of tissue dynamics is providing us a foundation to understand how these processes go awry in aging as well as in genetic skin diseases, including chronic wound-healing, hyper-inflammatory disorders and 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.

 

The 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 mec