Skin fibroblasts play role in acne formation in human samples and mice, researchers find

Scientists have yet to fully map out a detailed understanding of how acne forms on the molecular level. Now, researchers say fibroblasts, the cells integral to maintaining the structure of many tissues, play a role in the skin condition known for marking up teenagers' faces the world over.

It is known that inflammation from the bacteria Cutibacterium acnes, or C. acnes, is usually what causes acne. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) found fibroblasts can help determine how immune cells react to skin infections.

Fibroblasts turn into fat cell progenitors through adipogenesis, a process that has been linked to tissue infection responses, but its relationship to C. acnes had not been articulated before. Now, the UCSD researchers say C. acnes triggers the adipogenesis process in fibroblasts, which causes them to convert to an antimicrobial form.

The researchers sequenced human acne lesions and mouse skin that was infected with C. acnes and found that both bore PREF1, a marker of adipogenesis, they reported in Science Translational Medicine this month. The tissues also harbored cathelicidin, an antimicrobial peptide.

RELATED: Researchers find 29 genetic variants in people with acne that could lead to new treatments

The researchers found that retinoic acid, a drug commonly used for acne, turned on cathelicidin and suppressed adipogenesis in the mice with acne lesions. Another finding from the research? Accutane, another common acne medicine, led to a rise in cathelicidin in patients' skin biopsies, which points to signs that retinoids might target fibroblasts in skin.

The findings help uncover an “unexpected and important role” for fibroblasts in acne formation, the researchers wrote.

Other recent research into acne revealed 29 new genetic variants that are more common in people with the skin condition. The findings, from St. John’s Institute of Dermatology and collaborators, point to a potential pathway for new acne treatments and also help clinicians better predict whether a patient has a higher risk for severe disease.

The acne market, which is known all too well in schools and universities around the world, has caught the eyes of Big Pharmas like Sanofi. The French conglomerate bought Origimm Biotechnology two months ago to test an acne vaccine in a phase 1/2 trial next year.

AnaptysBio is also testing an acne treatment, an anti-IL-36R drug that failed a midstage test in a rare inflammatory disorder in March 2021. Now, the company hopes the drug will pass muster in patients with acne.