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TGFβ signaling regulates lipogenesis in human sebaceous glands cells

Adrian J McNairn12, Yanne Doucet13, Julien Demaude4, Marion Brusadelli1, Christopher B Gordon5, Armando Uribe-Rivera5, Paul F Lambert6, Charbel Bouez4, Lionel Breton4 and Géraldine Guasch1*

Author affiliations

1 Division of Developmental Biology, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, 3333 Burnet Avenue, Cincinnati, OH, 45229, USA

2 Current Address: Department of Biomedical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, 14853, USA

3 Current Address: Department of Dermatology, Columbia University, College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, NY, 10032, USA

4 L’OREAL Research & Innovation, 90 rue du General Roguet, CLICHY, 92583, FRANCE

5 Division of Plastic Surgery, Children’s Hospital Medical Center, 3333 Burnet Avenue, Cincinnati, OH, 45229, USA

6 University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Madison, WI, USA

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Citation and License

BMC Dermatology 2013, 13:2  doi:10.1186/1471-5945-13-2

Published: 23 January 2013



Sebaceous glands are components of the skin essential for its normal lubrication by the production of sebum. This contributes to skin health and more importantly is crucial for the skin barrier function. A mechanistic understanding of sebaceous gland cells growth and differentiation has lagged behind that for keratinocytes, partly because of a lack of an in vitro model that can be used for experimental manipulation.


We have developed an in vitro culture model to isolate and grow primary human sebocytes without transformation that display functional characteristics of sebocytes. We used this novel method to probe the effect of Transforming Growth Factor β (TGFβ) signaling on sebocyte differentiation, by examining the expression of genes involved in lipogenesis upon treatment with TGFβ1. We also repressed TGFβ signaling through knockdown of the TGFβ Receptor II to address if the effect of TGFβ activation is mediated via canonical Smad signal transduction.


We find that activation of the TGFβ signaling pathway is necessary and sufficient for maintaining sebocytes in an undifferentiated state. The presence of TGFβ ligand triggered decreased expression in genes required for the production of characteristics sebaceous lipids and for sebocyte differentiation such as FADS2 and PPARγ, thereby decreasing lipid accumulation through the TGFβ RII-Smad2 dependent pathway.


TGFβ signaling plays an essential role in sebaceous gland regulation by maintaining sebocytes in an undifferentiated state. This data was generated using a novel method for human sebocyte culture, which is likely to prove generally useful in investigations of sebaceous gland growth and differentiation. These findings open a new paradigm in human skin biology with important implications for skin therapies.

Human Sebaceous gland cells; Sebocytes; TGFβ signaling; Cell differentiation; Proliferation; Lipogenesis; Skin appendages