Everyone has bad hair days. For 30 million men in the United States, roughly 40 percent of those over 35, every day is a no hair day. The good news is that thanks to new research, baldness may be fading away.
Researchers from the Howard Hughes Institute at the University of Chicago have induced hair follicle formation in the mature skin cells of mice. Follicle formation is a once-in-a-lifetime event that ordinarily happens only during early embryogenesis.
Their findings, reported in the November 25 issue of Cell, indicate that a molecule called beta-catenin may be the long sought message that instructs embryonic cells to become hair follicles, suggesting possible treatments for premature baldness.
"Beta-catenin can cause adult epithelial cells to revert to an embryonic-like state where they have the ability to choose to become a hair follicle," says Elaine Fuchs, Amgen Professor in the Departments of Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology, Howard Hughes Investigator, and lead author of the paper. This is exciting because current treatments for baldness only work if there are living follicles left, or if the patient undergoes hair transplant surgery. Our research shows that new follicles can be created from adult skin cells if certain molecular players are induced to act.
Beta-catenin performs two very different functions. In adult epithelial cells, it participates in binding neighboring cells together to facilitate cell-cell communication. But during embryogenesis, beta-catenin appears to have another role: it reacts with a molecule called LEF-1, which is expressed only in cells that will eventually become hair follicles. Together, beta-catenin and LEF-1 form a transcription factor that binds to the cells DNA and activates the genes that instruct the cell to become a hair follicle.
Uri Gat, a postdoctoral fellow in Fuchss lab, created mice that constantly produced a stabilized form of beta-catenin in their skin. (Normally any excess beta-c
Contact: Sharon Parmet
University of Chicago