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Rockefeller scientists identify 'natural' proteins that push stem cells to produce hair, not skin

ng away from that sheet of cells to form teeth, lungs and other organs.

Stem cells that create epidermis or hair have become a model system to study, because they are plentiful in adult skin and they can be maintained in a Petri dish in the laboratory, says Fuchs. The skin epidermis is a multi-layered tissue, and at the innermost or basal layer, stem cells give rise to progeny that divide several times before they are pushed upward and differentiate to produce the body's barrier to keep harmful microbes out and fluids in. The cells that reach the skin surface are dead, and sloughed off, continually replaced by inner layer cells moving outward. "Every two weeks, the epidermis is nearly brand new," she says.

Adult stem cells taken from both humans and mice can be maintained in laboratory culture, and continually propagated. In that way, Fuchs says, researchers can study the genes and proteins involved in turning stem cells into epidermis or hair follicles.

Fuchs and her research team previously discovered that a protein called beta-catenin is a key player in formation of hair. This finding has contributed to the recognition that accumulation of this protein in certain specific cells may be a critical, early step in selecting the developmental pathway of a number of stem cells in the body.

The Rockefeller scientists also found that beta-catenin works in concert with a transcription factor known as Lef-1 (lymphoid enhancer factor). A transcription factor is a protein that can combine with other proteins (in this case, beta-catenin) so that it can turn certain genes in the cell's DNA on or off. The Fuchs lab found that in mice, Lef-1 is expressed (produced) in stem cells that become hair follicles, but not in stem cells that develop into skin epidermis.

In other words, stem cells destined to become hair contain two nuclear proteins -- beta-catenin and Lef-1 -- that are not found in stem cells fated to become skin epidermis. The Ro
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Contact: Joseph Bonner
bonnerj@mail.rockefeller.edu
212-327-8998
Rockefeller University
19-Mar-2003


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