Dr. Stella Man, from the Institute of Cell and Molecular Sciences, Queen Mary's University, London, UK, says that a mutation in a gene that is linked to deafness could have a major part to play in wound healing. Dr Man is to present these findings at the annual conference of the European Society of Human Genetics in Amsterdam, The Netherlands today.
This discovery has the potential to be useful in many types of wound healing, including those that are inflicted post-surgically. The team of researchers led by Professor David Kelsell was analyzing the gene (GJB2). A common mutation in this gene is the cause for genetic deafness.
"Since many people carry this mutation", Dr. Man said, "and people who have just one such mutation are not deaf, we felt that there might be some evolutionary advantage to it, so we decided to investigate how the mutation affected the ability of cells to communicate with each other in the epidermis where Cx26 is also expressed."
Cells present in the skin have to have a way of communicating with each other in order to effectively repair and heal wounds. This process involves gap junctions in the skin regulated by proteins called connexins, of which Cx26 is one. "When we looked at the function of Cx26 in a laboratory skin model", said Dr. Man, "we found that it was directly associated with wound healing and bacterial invasion. We concluded that there is a definite advantage to carrying a mutation in this protein."
She added that a drug that can block Cx26 protein in the wound could potentially accelerate healing. "It is interesting to speculate that Cx26 deafness mutations have been selected over the evolutionary process due to their beneficial effects on wound healing."
Contact: Mary Rice
European Society of Human Genetics