We're a little crazy, about science!

Skin Cells and Skin… smells?!


Yeah we all know that your nose smells. Yawn! Boring I know, this isn’t kindergarten this is Loony Labs! Thankfully that isn’t what I have for you [as much as an amazing breakthrough as that really is, or maybe I’m easily entertained]. Anyway let’s just jump right in, your skin smells too! Not in the you need a shower kind of way [although if you haven’t showered in a day or two then you just may fall in that category], but in the it can detect odors kind of way.

All done the same way your nose does it, olfactory receptors. Furthermore, cell proliferation increases and wound healing improves if those receptors are activated. This mechanism constitutes a possible starting point for new drugs and cosmetics [as in the burn healing or other scar inducing kind of way].

Humans have approximately 350 different types of olfactory receptors in the nose. The function of those receptors has also been shown to exist in, for example spermatozoa [yep, pretty much exactly what it sounds like, I’ll give you a hint, sperm, okay that was the answer but still], the prostate, the intestine and the kidneys. The team of researchers have now discovered them in keratinocytes — or if you don’t want to be fancy naming it, cells that form the outermost layer of the skin.

What the researchers did was study the olfactory receptor that occurs in the skin, namely OR2AT4, and discovered that it is activated by a synthetic sandalwood scent, so-called Sandalore. Sandalwood aroma is frequently used in incense sticks and is a popular component in perfumes, yes I know the naturopaths or whomever else out there that wants to make a buck will probably try to claim this one as their own, but screw you this is actual science not some hippy crap.

The activated OR2AT4 receptor triggers a calcium-dependent signal pathway. That pathway ensures an increased proliferation and a quicker migration of skin cells — for those of you wondering why that is important, those are the processes which typically facilitate wound healing.The team demonstrated this effect in skin cell cultures and skin explants — explants are just skin graft type cultures that are placed in a medium to allow growth, making them slightly different from just skin cell cultures, but still kind of the same.

But wait there’s more! In addition to OR2AT4, the RUB scientists have also found a variety of other olfactory receptors in the skin, the function of which they are planning to characterise more precisely.

“The results so far show that they possess therapeutic and cosmetic potential,” says Prof Hanns Hatt, one of the lead researchers on the paper. “Still, we mustn’t forget that concentrated fragrances should be handled with care, until we have ascertained which functions the different types of olfactory receptors in skin cells have.”

Who even knows what those receptors do, which makes it exciting! Of course for those of us who wear cologne or perfume it might be just a tad unnerving. For all we know those other olfactory receptors signal something horrible. Then again given the prevalence of smells we wear and in the environment in general, maybe not. All in all, it’s a pretty interesting discovery and may offer hope for people who need to regrow skin, like those burn victims I mentioned briefly earlier.

In the meantime, I’m going to try not to feel like my skin is judging me based on how I smell. Maybe that’s a little weird, but then again who said I was normal?

Want to read more? You can find the full study —here!

Busse, D., Kudella, P., Grüning, N., Gisselmann, G., Ständer, S., Luger, T., Jacobsen, F., Steinsträßer, L., Paus, R., Gkogkolou, P., Böhm, M., Hatt, H., & Benecke, H. (2014). A Synthetic Sandalwood Odorant Induces Wound Healing Processes in Human Keratinocytes via the Olfactory Receptor OR2AT4 Journal of Investigative Dermatology DOI: 10.1038/jid.2014.273

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