Whilst the discovery is linked directly with changing the appearance of scars after surgery or from wounds, it may hold potential to be developed for cosmetic applications.
The new research, published in the journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), suggests that topical application of an adenosine A2A receptor antagonist will diminish the overall size of a scar and improve skin quality.
Hope of new agents
"Scars can be disfiguring and, if extensive enough, can lead to diminished function and quality of life," says Bruce N. Cronstein, a researcher involved in the work from the Division of Translational Medicine in the Department of Medicine at New York University School of Medicine in New York.
"We hope that our findings may lead to new agents that diminish scarring and disfigurement following burns, wounds, or even illnesses that destroy skin and lead to a better quality of life for victims of these traumas."
Appearing online, the scientists from NYU describe how agents that block receptors for adenosine (a molecule generated from ATP which is used by the body to provide energy to muscles) can be applied topically to healing wounds to reduce scar size, yielding skin that feels more like the original, unscarred skin.
When the skin or other tissues are wounded, ATP leaks from the damaged cells and is then converted to adenosine which promotes healing.
Scars form when adenosine continues to be produced at the wound site after the injury is healed, leading to larger, thicker scars than what may have otherwise been there.
To study the possibility of reducing scar sizes, Cronstein and colleagues studied wounds on the backs of mice. After the wound closed, the adenosine A2A receptor antagonist was applied. They found that the adenosine A2A receptor agonist prevented excessive scar tissue in the treated mice.
For the future
"The vast majority of scars are hardly noticeable, if they can be seen at all," said Gerald Weissmann, Editor-in-Chief of the FASEB Journal.
"But for some, scars can severely disfigure not only the body, but the mind. Finding ways to prevent scarring after wounds or surgery has the potential to improve the quality of life for those who suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, now and for generations to come."