The chemical that controls life and death in hair follicles

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

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

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

Its adaptability makes it useful for repairing damaged tissues or organs.

“In science fiction when characters heal quickly from injuries, the idea is that stem cells allow it,” said UC Riverside mathematical biologist and study co-author Qixuan Wang.

“In real life, our new research brings us closer to understanding stem cell behavior, so we can control it and promote wound healing,” Wang said. This research was recently detailed Biophysical Journal Article – commodity.

The liver and stomach regenerate itself in response to wounds. However, Wang’s team studied the hair follicle because it is the only organ in humans that regenerates spontaneously and periodically, even without injury.

The researchers determined how a type of protein, TGF-beta, controls the process by which cells in hair follicles, including stem cells, divide, form new cells, or regulate their death — ultimately causing the entire hair follicle to die.

The chemical that controls life and death in hair follicles

Cross section of the hair follicle. Credit: UCR

“TGF-beta has two opposite roles. It helps activate some hair follicle cells to produce new life, and later, it helps regulate the process of apoptosis,” Wang said.

As with many chemicals, it is the quantity that makes the difference. If a cell produces a certain amount of TGF-beta, it activates cell division. Too much of it causes programmed cell death.

No one knows exactly why the follicles kill themselves. Some hypotheses suggest it is an inherited trait from animals that shed their fur to survive hot summer temperatures or attempt camouflage.

“Even when a hair follicle kills itself, it never kills its stock of stem cells. And when the remaining stem cells receive a signal to regenerate, they divide, make a new cell, and develop into a new follicle,” Wang said.

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

Since many animals, including humans, have a skin covered with hair, optimal wound healing requires the regeneration of hair follicles. The ability to more precisely control TGF-beta levels could one day cure baldness, which bothers millions of people around the world.

“Our work has the potential to offer something to help people with a variety of problems,” Wang said.

New study says stem cells lose their ‘glue’ and escape from hair follicles to cause hair loss

more information:
Catherine Dinh et al., A Probabilistic Logic Model of Hair Follicle Cell Fate Regulation by TGF-β, Biophysical Journal (2022). DOI: 10.1016 / j.bpj.2022.05.035

Offered by University of California – Riverside

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