Kathleen Green, Ph.D., a professor of pathology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, studies the epithelial cells that form the outermost layer of the skin. Funds provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and administered by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) have enabled her to add staff and equipment to her lab. This has bolstered Dr. Green’s ability to better understand how skin epithelial cells communicate not only with each other, but with molecules in the extracellular matrix that lies below them.
"Sticky" molecules called desmogleins are known to hold epithelial cells in the skin together. Dr. Green’s team has found that a desmoglein-associated molecule called plakoglobin is not only active in cell-cell adhesion, but also regulates the expression and deposition of extracellular matrix molecules on which the epithelial cells sit and move. ARRA funding is allowing the team to further investigate the mechanisms involved in this activity.
The group has discovered, for example, that plakoglobin regulates fibronectin, a protein that binds both extracellular matrix components, such as collagen and fibrin, and cell membrane-spanning proteins called integrins. This ARRA-enabled work, says Dr. Green, should provide insights into both normal and disease-causing processes in the skin, including the regulation of cell movement during skin wound healing.
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