Background: Age-related thinning and reduced cell proliferation in the human epidermis are associated with the accumulation of senescent cells and decreases in the number and function of epidermal stem cells. Objective: This study examined the expression of INHBA/Activin-A in human epidermis and expression differences with age, and the effect of Activin-A on epidermal stem/progenitor cells. Methods: Immunohistochemical staining was used to analyze age-related changes in the expression of INHBA/Activin-A in the epidermal tissue of young and old subjects. Epidermal INHBA/Activin-A expression levels, epidermal morphology, and the number of epidermal stem/progenitor cells or proliferating cells were investigated using older abdominal skin samples. The effects of Activin-A on the development of a three-dimensional (3D) reconstructed epidermis and cell proliferation were also assessed. Results: INHBA/Activin-A expression levels in the human epidermis increased with age, although they varied among individuals. In the epidermis of older abdominal skin samples, INHBA/Activin-A expression levels negatively correlated with epidermal thickness, the rete ridge depth and the interdigitation index. The proportion of epidermal stem/progenitor cells and proliferating cells decreased with increases in INHBA/Activin-A expression levels. Activin-A had no effect on the differentiation of keratinocytes in the 3D-reconstructed epidermis; however, thinning of the 3D epidermis was noted. Moreover, the addition of Activin-A inhibited the proliferation of epidermal stem/progenitor cells in a concentration-dependent manner. Conclusions: Age-related increased in INHBA/Activin-A expression levels were observed in the human epidermis, and may contribute to epidermal thinning and decreases in the number of epidermal stem/progenitor cells and proliferative activity.
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