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Some Bacteria Shown to Inhibit Skin Inflammation

Posted: December 2, 2009

A new discovery about bacteria living on the skin's surface shows some of it to be beneficial in preventing inflammation after injury, potentially leading to treatments for inflammatory skin issues.

On the skin's surface, bacteria are abundant, diverse and constant, but inflammation is undesirable. Research at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine now shows that the normal bacteria living on the skin surface trigger a pathway that prevents excessive inflammation after injury.

"These germs are actually good for us," said Richard L. Gallo, MD, PhD, professor of medicine and pediatrics, chief of UCSD's Division of Dermatology and the dermatology section of the Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System. The study, published in the online edition of Nature Medicine on November 22, was done in mice and in human cell cultures, primarily performed by post-doctoral fellow Yu Ping Lai.

"The exciting implications of Dr. Lai's work is that it provides a molecular basis to understand the "hygiene hypothesis" and has uncovered elements of the wound repair response that were previously unknown. This may help us devise new therapeutic approaches for inflammatory skin diseases," said Gallo.

The so-called "hygiene hypothesis," first introduced in the late 1980s, suggests that a lack of early childhood exposure to infectious agents and microorganisms increases an individuals susceptibility to disease by changing how the immune system reacts to such bacterial invaders. The hypothesis was first developed to explain why allergies like hay fever and eczema were less common in children from large families, who were presumably exposed to more infectious agents than others. It is also used to explain the higher incidence of allergic diseases in industrialized countries.