Spotlight on Research for 2007

January 2007 (historical)

Gene Array Research Contributes to Understanding of Acne

Researchers have recently discovered that certain genes are highly expressed in the skin lesions of patients with acne. This finding adds to the understanding of how acne develops, and may help identify targets for effectively treating the disease. Their work was partly supported by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS).

Diane M. Thiboutot, M.D., and her colleagues at Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine conducted the first acne study using a new technology called gene array expression profiling, which can provide a rough measure of the cellular concentration of messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) expressed from the genes in a cell. (Messenger RNA is a template derived from DNA for protein synthesis.) They showed that mRNAs from 211 genes are present in increased amounts in the acne lesions of patients with the disease, when compared to the amount of these mRNAs in the unaffected areas of skin of the same patients. Many of the genes being examined in this study are involved in inflammation and tissue remodeling in the body.

The researchers selected five of the 211 genes, and performed further research using a technology called quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR), commonly used to determine the number of copies of a genetic sequence (such as an mRNA) in the sample. These five genes were selected based both on the dramatic increase in their expression in acne lesions, and the high relevance of these genes to the biological process of inflammation. The results of these experiments confirmed those of gene array expression profiling: in patients with acne, these genes are expressed at higher levels in the acne lesions than in the unaffected areas of skin.

Using techniques of immunohistochemistry, the researchers also found that three genes (two of them are also among the five genes examined using qPCR, as was mentioned above) involved in the inflammation in acne are highly expressed at the protein level in the inflammatory acne lesions. One of three genes, matrix metalloproteinase 1 (MMP-1), however, was also highly expressed in one uninvolved area of skin from an acne patient. The researchers then found out that this skin sample, while appearing clinically normal, was actually an acne lesion when observed microscopically. This finding calls for further research to see if MMP-1 expression is an early marker for the future development of clinical acne lesions.

Acne is a disorder resulting from the action of hormones and other substances on the skin's oil glands and hair follicles. These factors lead to plugged pores and outbreaks of lesions commonly called pimples or zits. Acne is most common in adolescents and young adults. For most people, acne tends to go away by the time they reach their thirties; however, some people in their forties and fifties continue to have this skin problem. Although acne is usually not a serious health threat, it can be a source of significant emotional distress. Severe acne can lead to permanent scarring. There is currently no cure for the disorder. The goals of treatment are to heal existing lesions, stop new lesions from forming, prevent scarring, and minimize the psychological stress and embarrassment caused by this disease.

Other support for this research came from the National Center for Research Resources, the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, Galderma Laboratories, Inc. and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

The mission of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), a part of the Department of Health and Human Services' National Institutes of Health, is to support research into the causes, treatment, and prevention of arthritis and musculoskeletal and skin diseases; the training of basic and clinical scientists to carry out this research; and the dissemination of information on research progress in these diseases. For more information about NIAMS, call the information clearinghouse at (301) 495-4484 or (877) 22-NIAMS (free call) or visit the NIAMS Web site at

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Trivedi NR, et al. Gene array expression profiling in acne lesions reveals marked upregulation of genes involved in inflammation and matrix remodeling. Journal of Investigative Dermatology 2006;126:1071-1079.