Breakthrough skin cell understanding on key enzyme offers anti-ageing advancements


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Breakthrough skin cell understanding on key enzyme offers anti-ageing advancements

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Scientists have identified that the activity of the key enzyme mitochondrial complex II significantly decreases in older skin and say this could hold the key to future cosmetic product development.

It is the first time such a discovery has been made and researchers at Newcastle University say that the discovery takes a step towards developing powerful anti-ageing treatments and cosmetic products which may be tailored to counteract the decline in the enzyme’s activity levels.

The breakthrough, published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology​, enhances understanding of human skin cells, and could also lead to a greater understanding of how other organs in the body age, which could pave the way for drug developments in a number of age-related diseases too.

Anti-ageing possibilities

Mark Birch-Machin, Professor of Molecular Dermatology at Newcastle University, who led the pioneering study with Dr Amy Bowman from his research group, says at this stage anti-ageing and cosmetic developments appear a real possibility as the study looked into wrinkles, fine lines and sagging.

“As our bodies age we see that the batteries in our cells run down, known as decreased bio-energy, and harmful free radicals increase,”​ he says. “This process is easily seen in our skin as increased fine lines, wrinkles and sagging appears.”

“Our study shows, for the first time, in human skin that with increasing age there is a specific decrease in the activity of a key metabolic enzyme found in the batteries of the skin cells.”

The professor continues to explain that this enzyme is the hinge between the two important ways of making energy in our cells and a decrease in its activity contributes to decreased bio-energy in ageing skin.

“Our research means that we now have a specific biomarker, or a target, for developing and screening anti-ageing treatments and cosmetic creams that may counter this decline in bio-energy,”​ he adds.

“There is now a possibility of finding anti-ageing treatments which can be tailored to differently aged and differently pigmented skin, and with the additional possibility to address the ageing process elsewhere in our bodies.”


In the research, the complex II activity was measured in 27 donors, aged 6-72, with samples taken from a sun-protected area of skin to determine if there was a difference in activity with increasing age.

The key enzymes within mitochondria were then measured from the upper and lower areas of skin and the research team found that complex II activity significantly declined with age, per unit of mitochondria, in the cells derived from the lower rather than the upper levels; an observation not previously reported for human skin.

They say the reason for this is that the amount of enzyme protein was decreased and furthermore this decrease was only observed in those cells that had stopped proliferating.

“Our work brings us one step closer to understanding how these vital cell structures may be contributing to human ageing, with the hope of eventually specifically targeting areas of the mitochondria in an attempt to counteract the signs of ageing,”​ explains research associate, Dr Bowman.

A recent study carried out in mice showed that complex II activity is lower in the skin of naturally aged older mice compared to younger mice; and the Newcastle research team says that further studies will now be required to fully understand the functional consequences in skin and other tissues, and to establish methods to assess anti-ageing strategies in human skin.

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