Does acne protect cells from ageing?

Scientists at King's College London have reported how past acne sufferers are likely to have longer telomeres in their white blood cells, the region of repetitive nucleotide sequences at each end of a chromosome that protects the end of chromosomes from deterioration or from fusion with neighboring chromosomes. Telomeres gradually break down and shrink as cells age, eventually leading to cell death which is a normal part of human growth and ageing. Consequently, the cells of acne sufferers could be better protected against aging. Studies have shown that white blood cell telomere length can be predictive of biological aging and is linked with telomere length in other cells in the body.

The Journal of Investigative Dermatology published on the length of white blood cell telomeres in over a thousand twins from the TwinsUK cohort. A quarter of the cohort reported having experienced acne during their lifetime. Following adjustment for age, relatedness, weight and height the telomere legnth in those who had suffered with acne was markedly longer. The UK Acne Genetic study, also lead by King's scientists, has previously reported how one gene involved in telomere length is associated with acne.

It has long been noted by dermatologists how the skin of acne sufferers seems to age more slowly than those with no history of acne. Traditionally recognised signs of aging such as wrinkles and skin thinning emerge much later in life in those people who have experienced acne. Previously it has been suggested that this correlation is due to increased oil production but it is now clear that there are other factors involved.

The researchers also examined gene expression in retained skin biopsies from the same twins looking to identify possible gene pathways linked to acne. Less active p53 pathways, involved in the regulation of programmed cell death, was found in the skin of acne sufferers'. Clearly further investigation is needed to identify other genes involved in cell aging and how they differ in acne sufferers before these findings can be converted into useful interventions. The study did have one slight limitation - the entirely female twin cohort it was conducted in.

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Materials provided by Kings College London. 


  1. S. Ribero, M. Sanna, A. Visconti, A. Navarini, A. Aviv, D. Glass, T.D. Spector, C. Smith, M. Simpson, J. Barker, M. Mangino, M. Falchi, V. Bataille. Acne and telomere length. A new spectrum between senescence and apoptosis pathwaysJournal of Investigative Dermatology, 2016; DOI: 10.1016/j.jid.2016.09.014