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Am J Pathol. 2010 May;176(5):2247-58. doi: 10.2353/ajpath.2010.090048. Epub 2010 Mar 19.

Epithelial to mesenchymal transition in human skin wound healing is induced by tumor necrosis factor-alpha through bone morphogenic protein-2.

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Department of Surgery, the Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, USA.


Epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), characterized by loss of epithelial adhesion and gain of mesenchymal features, is an important mechanism to empower epithelial cells into the motility that occurs during embryonic development and recurs in cancer and fibrosis. Whether and how EMT occurs in wound healing and fibrosis in human skin remains unknown. In this study we found that migrating epithelial cells in wound margins and deep epithelial ridges had gained mesenchymal features such as vimentin and FSP1 expression. In hypertrophic scars, EMT-related genes were elevated along with inflammatory cytokines, indicating a causal relationship. To reconstitute EMT in vitro, normal human skin and primary keratinocytes were exposed to cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), resulting in expression of vimentin, FSP1, and matrix metalloproteinases. Moreover, TNF-alpha-induced EMT was impaired by antagonists against bone morphogen proteins (BMP) 2/4, suggesting that BMP mediates the TNF-alpha-induced EMT in human skin. Indeed, TNF-alpha could induce BMP-2 and its receptor (BMPR1A) in human skin and primary keratinocytes, and BMP2 could induce EMT features in skin explants and primary keratinocytes. In summary, we uncovered EMT features in both acute and fibrotic cutaneous wound healing of human skin. Moreover, we propose that the mesenchymal induction in wound healing is motivated by TNF-alpha, in part, through induction of BMP.

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