[ODUNEWS] July 26 – Researchers at the University of California Riverside (UC Riverside) have identified a single protein that seems to control when hair follicles die. Armed with this new information, it might eventually be possible to reverse the process and stimulate hair regrowth.
The protein in question is known as TGF-beta, a signaling protein that regulates the division, growth and death of cells. As such, it plays a major role in important jobs like wound healing and seems to be hijacked by cancer cells to allow uncontrolled growth. In this case, the team found that TGF-beta extends its work to the cells inside hair follicles.
“TGF-beta has two opposite roles,” said Qixuan Wang, co-author of the study. “It helps activate some hair follicle cells to produce new life, and later, it helps orchestrate apoptosis, the process of cell death.”
The team found that these two opposing forces were regulated by the levels of the protein. With just the right amount of TGF-beta, cell division is activated, stimulating the growth of the follicle. But if too much is present, it tips the cells into apoptosis, leading to loss of hair follicles and, as a result, baldness.
But importantly, the team says this isn’t necessarily a one-way street. Follicle stem cells are still lying there dormant, waiting to be reactivated. Further research into how exactly TGF-beta activates cell division, and how it communicates with related genes, could one day open new treatments for baldness, alopecia, or other types of hair loss.
“Even when a hair follicle kills itself, it never kills its stem cell reservoir,” said Wang. “When the surviving stem cells receive the signal to regenerate, they divide, make new cells, and develop into a new follicle. Potentially our work could offer something to help people suffering from a variety of problems.”
The research was published in the Biophysical Journal.