Lifespan News – Stem Cells and Hair Loss

The extracellular matrix seems to play an important part in this problem.


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Ryan O’Shea teaches us about how hair loss can be caused by stem cells that escape their niche on this episode of Lifespan News.


Incredible new videos show stem cells escaping from hair follicles, which could provide insight on a new, potentially reversible mechanism of hair loss. We’ll show you the videos and discuss why this is so important on this episode of Lifespan News!

Stem cells contribute to tissue regeneration, and they are thought to play an important role in age-related decline – so much so that stem cell exhaustion is one of the hallmarks of aging. These stem cells reside in “compartments” in various tissues. In the hair, the stem cell compartment, known as the bulge, is adjacent to the hair follicle.

It is extremely hard to monitor stem cell activity in live animals over time, yet this is exactly what the researchers of this study have achieved using noninvasive imaging techniques based on lasers. By anesthetizing mice and putting them inside the imaging device, they were able to observe and record the process of stem cells escaping their compartment.

As you can see in this video, researchers watched as escaping stem cells changed their shape and shot out of the compartment as if squeezing through invisible holes, which are most likely structural abnormalities in the membrane. The researchers hypothesize that aging somehow harms the structural integrity of the membrane, but this phenomenon demands further examination. The “rogue” stem cells escape to the dermis, which is the lower layer of the skin. Once there they remained stem cells, and seemed to be doing quite well in the new environment. However, this may not be a good sign, since stem cells are known to contribute heavily to tumorigenesis, and the authors call for more research into the role that escaping stem cells might play in the development of cancer.


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Sticking with hair loss though, the researchers studied both young and old mice. In young animals, the stem cell compartment was well defined, and cells were restricted to their rightful place. In many older mice, however, the researchers noticed the shrinkage of the hair follicle and compartment. The shrinkage was even more pronounced when the compartment showed signs of stem cell escape.

The researchers looked for proteins that were downregulated in the follicles that experienced stem cell escape, zeroing in on two transcription factors. These identified proteins are indeed known to regulate cellular adhesion and extracellular matrix integrity.

The scientists then created genetically modified mice with both of these proteins knocked out and found that these animals demonstrated even more pronounced symptoms than the older controls, including massive hair loss, shrinking of hair follicles, and stem cell escape. Although it wasn’t studied here, researchers suggest that such upregulation of these proteins could potentially alleviate age-related hair loss, which could be a huge breakthrough in the eyes of many.

These findings seem to support an idea that has been gaining popularity in the longevity field: that the integrity of the extracellular matrix might be a much more crucial factor of aging than previously thought.

Not only does this paper reveal a new potentially reversible mechanism of hair loss, it also pioneers a noninvasive imaging technology that allows scientists to observe aging on the cellular level in live animals. This research can potentially help us understand more fundamental mechanisms of aging.


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Research is continuing, and when there are updates to share we’ll bring it to you here, so please subscribe so you don’t miss out. I’m Ryan O’Shea, and we’ll see you next time on Lifespan News!

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CategoryLifespan News, News