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

ckefeller scientists suspected that beta-catenin and Lef-1 worked together to produce changes in the stem cell that pushed it to "morph" into hair, but they didn't know how, at that time.

Proof of their findings came when the scientists altered genes in experimental mice to over produce beta-catenin and Lef-1. Skin cells on the mice produced luxuriant hair.

However, these same genetic changes form benign tumors around the new hair follicles because the beta-catenin continually pushes new stem cells to form hair. "Such genetic manipulation is obviously not an answer to human hair woes," Fuchs says. v The Rockefeller researchers then searched for the natural triggers that cause both beta-catenin and Lef-1 to form hair without genetic manipulation of the stem cells.

Proteins that cause the cell to change shape

The new research summed up in the Nature paper now paints a more complete picture of the molecular changes involved in hair follicle formation, says Jamora. The Fuchs research team found that proteins that help the cell maintain its shape, collectively called the cytoskeleton, are involved in the decision to change that shape to form hair follicles.

Before stem cells differentiate, they are locked together in tight sheets, zipped to one another. The protein that forms the "teeth" of these zippers is known as E-cadherin; it sticks outside the membrane of each stem cell, and zips together with other E-cadherins in nearby stem cells. E-cadherins are called "adhesion" proteins because they stick like Velcro to each other to help maintain both the shape of the cell and its link to other cells.

"When the process of forming this sheet of stem cells begins, cells touch each other and maintain contact by joining single E-cadherin proteins together on adjacent cells," says Jamora. "This triggers the structural proteins inside the cell to start linking to the actin cytoskeleton. "

That allows the cell to
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Contact: Joseph Bonner
bonnerj@mail.rockefeller.edu
212-327-8998
Rockefeller University
19-Mar-2003


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