VEGF, FGF-2 and TGFβ expression in the normal and regenerating epidermis of geckos: implications for epidermal homeostasis and wound healing in reptiles
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The skin is a bilayered organ that serves as a key barrier between an organism and its environment. In addition to protecting against microbial invasion, physical trauma and environmental damage, skin participates in maintaining homeostasis. Skin is also capable of spontaneous self-repair following injury. These functions are mediated by numerous pleiotrophic growth factors, including members of the vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), fibroblast growth factor (FGF), and transforming growth factor β (TGFβ) families. Although growth factor expression has been well documented in mammals, particularly during wound healing, for groups such as reptiles less is known. Here, we investigate the spatio-temporal pattern of expression of multiple growth factors in normal skin and following a full-thickness cutaneous injury in the representative lizard Eublepharis macularius, the leopard gecko. Unlike mammals, leopard geckos can heal cutaneous wounds without scarring. We demonstrate that before, during and after injury, keratinocytes of the epidermis express a diverse panel of growth factor ligands and receptors, including: VEGF, VEGFR1, VEGFR2, and phosphorylated VEGFR2; FGF-2 and FGFR1; and phosphorylated SMAD2, TGFβ1, and activin βA. Unexpectedly, only the tyrosine kinase receptors VEGFR1 and FGFR1 were dynamically expressed, and only during the earliest phases of re-epithelization; otherwise all the proteins of interest were constitutively present. We propose that the ubiquitous pattern of growth factor expression by keratinocytes is associated with various roles during tissue homeostasis, including protection against ultraviolet photodamage and coordinated body-wide skin shedding.
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