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J Biol Chem. 2000 Jun 23;275(25):19343-51.

Aging fibroblasts present reduced epidermal growth factor (EGF) responsiveness due to preferential loss of EGF receptors.

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Department of Pathology, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15261 and Department of Pathology, University of Alabama, Birmingham, Alabama 35294-0007, USA.


Wound healing is compromised in aging adults in part due to decreased responsiveness of fibroblasts to extracellular signals. However, the cellular mechanisms underlying this phenomenon are not known. Aged dermal fibroblasts with reduced remaining replicative capacities demonstrated decreased epidermal growth factor (EGF)-induced cell migrative and cell proliferative capacities, as reported previously. Thus, as cells approach senescence, programmed in vivo or in vitro, EGF responsiveness is preferentially lost. To define the rate-limiting signaling event, we found that the activity of two different EGF receptor (EGFR)-signaling pathways to cell migration (phospholipase-C gamma) and/or mitogenesis (extracellular signal/regulated-mitogen-activated kinases) were decreased in near senescent cells despite unchanged levels of effector molecules. Aged cells presented decreased levels of EGFR, although insulin receptor and transferrin receptor levels were relatively unchanged. EGFR mRNA levels and production of new transcripts decreased during aging, suggesting that this preferential loss of EGFR was due to diminished production, which more than counteracts the reduced ligand-induced receptor loss. Since these data suggested that the decrement in EGF was rate-limiting, higher levels of EGFR were established in near senescent cells by electroporation of EGFR cDNA. These cells presented higher levels of EGFR and recovered their EGF-induced migration and proliferation responsiveness. Thus, the defect in EGF responsiveness of aged dermal fibroblasts is secondary to reduced EGFR message transcription. Our experimental model suggests that EGFR gene delivery might be an effective future therapy for compromised wound healing.

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