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Researchers identify signals that cause hair follicles to sprout

The delicate interplay of two chemical signals coaxes stem cells into becoming hair follicles, according to new research by scientists at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at The Rockefeller University.

The research has implications for understanding hair growth and hair-follicle development, and it may also help explain how diverse structures, such as teeth and lungs, are formed or how some forms of skin cancer develop.

In an article published in the March 20, 2003, issue of the journal Nature, researchers led by HHMI investigator Elaine Fuchs at The Rockefeller University discovered that two signaling molecules, Wnt and noggin, influence immature stem cells to begin the process of forming hair follicles.

According to Fuchs, studies in her laboratory and others revealed the possible involvement of Wnt and other proteins in the signal transduction pathways that trigger hair-follicle formation. In previous studies, Fuchs and her colleagues produced an abnormally furry mouse with high numbers of hair follicles by genetically altering the animals to produce a stabilized form of a protein called beta-catenin. They also knew that beta-catenin was affected by the Wnt protein. Among the other proteins they implicated in hair-follicle formation was "lymphoid enhancer-binding factor 1" (Lef1), which is part of a transcription complex that controls gene activity.

"One of the aspects that scientists have been trying to understand in development of hair follicles, tooth buds, mammary glands and lungs is how these various transduction pathways work together," said Fuchs.

The researchers also had evidence that a second mechanism, involving a signaling molecule called bone morphogenetic protein (BMP), is also required for creating epithelial buds -- pockets in the skin that are the precursors of hair follicles.

Through experiments using mouse skin cell cultures and skin from e
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Contact: Jim Keeley
keeleyj@hhmi.org
301-215-8858
Howard Hughes Medical Institute
19-Mar-2003


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