Discovery of a protein that regulates hair growth and hair loss, which may be reversible

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About half of men suffer from baldness due to cell death in the hair follicle (the hollow segment of the epidermis from which hair grows). Good news: Researchers have just discovered a protein that can control hair follicle cell division (hair growth) and cell death (hair loss). It can also promote wound healing since follicles are the source of stem cells that divide into any type of cell.

In dermatology, alopecia is understood as the acceleration of hair loss, which can be diffuse, focal or even total: this is baldness. If you lose an average of 40 to 100 hairs per day, hair loss can become pathological; around the world, it worries millions of people.

Now, researchers at the University of California (UC) Riverside have identified a unique protein that appears to control when hair follicle cells divide to grow and when they die. Known as “transforming growth factor” (or TGF-beta), the signaling protein mediates tissue development and regulates cell division, growth, and death.

In addition, the protein will speed up wound healing, since the follicles are a source of stem cells that can grow into any type of cell. Thus, these stem cells can be used to “repair” damaged organs. “In science fiction, when characters heal quickly from their wounds, the idea is that stem cells made it possible,” said Qixuan Wang, a mathematical biologist at the University of California, Riverside and co-author of the study. “In real life, our new research brings us closer to understanding stem cell behavior so we can control it and promote wound healing.”

Why study hair follicles? UC Riverside reports that it is the only organ (in humans) that automatically and cyclically renews itself even without damage. In contrast, the liver and stomach, for example, regenerate after organ damage.

Hair growth and hair loss are regulated by the amount of TGF-beta.

After recent work, researchers have focused on the TGF-beta protein, which plays two opposite roles in regulating the fate of hair follicle cells: “It helps to activate certain hair follicle cells to create new life, and later helps organize apoptosis. cell death process,” Wang said.

The researchers wanted to understand the mechanisms underlying the control of hair follicle cell fate and found that two opposing roles are regulated by the amount of TGF-beta. A certain concentration of the protein activates the division and, consequently, the growth of the hair follicle, while too high a concentration leads to apoptosis of the follicle and, consequently, to baldness.

Luckily for the people concerned, the self-destructing hair follicle does not take the reservoir of stem cells with it, ensuring that the follicles are continually renewed. Thus, follicle stem cells are always present, just waiting to be reactivated to divide and produce new cells.

Further research into exactly how TGF-beta activates cell division and how it interacts with related genes could lead to new treatments for hair loss or alopecia.

Biophysical Journal.

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