The chemical that controls life and death in hair follicles


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New research into factors that control the life and death of hair follicle cells could help people with baldness as well as wound healing. Credit: Helpaeatcontu/Wikimedia

One chemical is the key to controlling when hair follicle cells divide and when they die. This discovery can not only cure baldness, but also speed up wound healing, since follicles are a source of stem cells.

Most cells in the human body have a specific form and function that is determined during embryonic development and does not change. For example, a blood cell cannot become a nerve cell or vice versa. However, stem cells are like empty tiles in the Scrabble game; they can transform into other types of cells.

Their adaptability makes them useful for repairing damaged tissues or organs.

“In science fiction, when characters heal quickly from injuries, the idea is that stem cells made it possible,” said Qixuan Wang, a mathematical biologist at the University of California at Riverside and study co-author Qixuan Wang.

“In real life, our new research brings us closer to understanding stem cell behavior so that we can control it and promote wound healing,” Wang said. This study is detailed in a recent Biophysical journal article.

The liver and stomach regenerate in response to injury. However, Wang’s team studied hair follicles because it is the only human organ that regenerates automatically and periodically, even without injury.

Researchers have identified how a type of protein, TGF-beta, controls the process by which cells in hair follicles, including stem cells, divide and form new cells or orchestrate their own death, ultimately leading to the death of the entire hair follicle.

The chemical that controls life and death in hair follicles

Cross section of a hair follicle. 1 credit

“TGF-beta plays two opposite roles. It helps activate some of the cells in the hair follicles to create new life, and later on it helps organize apoptosis, the process of cell death,” Wang said.

As with many chemicals, the difference lies in the amount. If a cell produces a certain amount of TGF-beta, it activates cell division. Too much of it causes apoptosis.

Nobody knows exactly why follicles kill themselves. Some hypotheses suggest that this is an inherited trait from animals shedding fur to survive hot summer temperatures or trying to disguise themselves.

“Even when a hair follicle kills itself, it never kills its reservoir of stem cells. When the surviving stem cells receive the signal to regenerate, they divide, create new cells, and develop into a new follicle,” Wang said.

If scientists can more accurately determine how TGF-beta activates cell division and how the chemical interacts with other important genes, it may be possible to activate follicle stem cells and stimulate hair growth.

Since the skin of many animals, including humans, is covered with hair, the regeneration of hair follicles is necessary for the complete healing of wounds. The ability to more precisely control TGF-beta levels could also one day cure the hair loss that plagues millions of people around the world.

“Potentially, our work could help people suffering from various problems,” Wang said.

Stem cells lose their ‘glue’ and leave the hair follicle causing hair loss, new study says

Additional Information:
Katherine Dinh et al. Probabilistic Boolean model of hair follicle cell fate regulation by TGF-β, Biophysical journal (2022). DOI: 10.1016/j.bpj.2022.05.035

Courtesy of the University of California, Riverside.

Quote: The chemical that controls life and death in hair follicles (2022 July 25), retrieved July 25, 2022 from .html

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