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The skin displays marked anatomical variation in thickness, colour and in the appendages that it carries. These regional distinctions arise in the embryo, likely founded on a combinatorial positional code of transcription factor expression. Throughout adult life, the skin's distinct anatomy is maintained through both cell autonomous epigenetic processes and by mesenchymal–epithelial induction. Despite the readily apparent anatomical differences in skin characteristics across the body, several fundamental questions regarding how such regional differences first arise and then persist are unresolved. However, it is clear that the skin's positional code is at the molecular level far more detailed than that discernible at the phenotypic level. This provides a latent reservoir of anatomical complexity ready to surface if perturbed by mutation, hormonal changes, ageing or experiment.