Skin – our first line of defence against life’s hazards – is a complex organ. It continuously balances renewing a supply of stem cells and pushing those cells towards specific roles in a process called differentiation. Here researchers investigated the proteins involved in this balancing act by teasing out human skin into a suspension of single cells, which causes them to differentiate. Looking at the proteins produced, they noticed several enzymes called protein phosphatases. Fluorescence imaging of whole sections of human skin (pictured) revealed that the abundance of these enzymes depended on whether the cells were differentiating or not. For example, one phosphatase (left column, red) was more abundant in stem cell clusters (highlighted in green in the left column), while another (right column, in red) had a more even distribution. Uncovering the dynamics of these enzymes provides clues to how the skin maintains equilibrium and stays healthy.
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