Wrinkles, crow’s feet? Aging skin may originate in the brain, study finds

The cosmetic industry’s most coveted elixir capable of stopping skin aging may be about to become a reality. Despite the miraculous promises of thousands of products available on the market, science shows that it is virtually impossible to stop the loss of vigor and thickness of the skin. A study by Brazilian researchers, however, shows that the secret to understanding aging may lie in understanding degenerative brain diseases.

A study published this week in the scientific journal Neurobiolgy of Aging, by neuroscientists Marilia Zaluar Guimarães and Stevens Rehen, of UFRJ and Instituto D’Or de Pesquisa, found that loss of skin health is caused by the same abnormal conglomerates of proteins responsible for causing degenerative brain diseases such as Parkinson’s disease. The work opens a new and very promising way to understand the disease but also to unlock the secrets of aging.

“We were able to gather evidence that clusters of the same proteins that cause neurodegenerative diseases are present in the skin,” said neuroscientist Marília Zaluar Guimarães. “We also found that these proteins have a greater tendency to form abnormal conglomerates in areas with the most sunlight.”

Parkinson’s disease occurs when certain proteins group together abnormally, causing the death of neurons responsible for motor control. These same clumps in the skin trigger inflammation and trigger a mechanism that reduces skin cell proliferation, a situation consistent with loss of vigor and aging.

“We used lab-reconstituted human skin to understand what happens when exposed to these clumps of protein,” Guimarães explained. “When we put these proteins on the skin, it thins out very quickly.”

Scientists have also been able to determine that all people with Parkinson’s disease have abnormal clusters not only in the brain, but also in the skin. Visible signs of aging, however, do not work for the diagnosis of brain disease. It turns out that many people can have abnormal proteins in the skin, but not in the brain.

“Other studies had already succeeded in determining that these proteins initially appear in the intestine, causing constipation”, specifies the neuroscientist. “Then they are captured by cells which transport them to the central nervous system. And this is where they finally go down to the skin. That is to say, in theory, when they reach the skin, they have already passed through the brain. But many investigations are still ongoing.

Trying to understand the mechanisms that cause clusters to cause aging can open up opportunities for intervention – the holy grail of the cosmetics industry.

At the same time, this understanding could help scientists halt the process that leads to Parkinson’s disease in the brain.

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