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New study: Genes may affect skin youthfulness


Could the fountain of skin youth be found in your gene pool? Some older adults have skin that looks decades younger than their chronological age - yet, despite the identification of genes that promote overall youthfulness among centenarians, no genes that promote skin youthfulness in older individuals have been identified.

In an effort to explore the secrets that make some people's skin look so good, Anne Lynn S. Chang, MD, a Stanford assistant professor of dermatology, and her colleagues here and at Albert Einstein College of Medicine studied a population of 1,000 genetically distinct older Ashkenazi-Jewish adults in New York - including hundreds of centenarians - that were part of Einstein's LonGenity Database. In their study, the researchers examined the gene variants and environmental factors in this population, excluding those who reported having undergone facial cosmetic procedures or used topical anti-aging medication. A dermatologist blinded to the chronological age of participants then assessed all facial skin aging parameters.

Through their analysis, and after controlling for external factors that could affect facial skin appearance - including smoking history and skin cancer history - the investigators were able to identify candidate genes associated with youthful appearing facial skin. The team then replicated the work in a second and third validation group.

According to Chang, the genes associated with skin youthfulness in this study appeared to be distinct from the genes that have previously been associated with exceptional longevity. She also noted that the homogeneity of the gene pool in the Ashkenazi Jewish population ensured that the gene variants were not due to ethnic differences.

"These study findings suggest that healthy appearing skin may, in part, be inherited," Chang told me. "The results may pave the way to enable a better understanding of the genetic basis of healthy skin."

And as Chang’s co-author Nir Barzilai, MD, at Einstein noted, “The genetic variations we found that influence skin age may also shed light on how the body’s other organs age – and potentially point to a strategy to prevent aging and its diseases.”

Chang said studies are underway to understand the biologic mechanisms by which these gene variants act and whether any drugs or external agents might promote these mechanisms.

The work appears online in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology. Among Chang and Barzilai's co-authors were Stanford's Howard Chang, MD, PhD, and Gil Atzmon, PhD, and Aviv Bergman, PhD, both of Einstein.


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