Researchers Discover Key to Hair Follicle Activation

A new study published in Cell Stem Cell identified a molecular pathway that can be triggered to restart hair growth in dormant follicles or blocked to prevent unwanted growth. Researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania examined the use of Wnt proteins, small molecular messengers that convey information between cells and initiate signaling via an intracellular molecule. When Wnt signaling was disrupted, the team found hair growth halted, and when the pathway resumed, hair growth was restored. “While more research is needed to improve our understanding of this pathway, our results suggest that therapeutics capable of decreasing levels of Wnt/β-catenin signaling in the skin could potentially be used to block growth of unwanted hair and to treat certain skin tumors,” says senior author Sarah Millar, Ph.D., professor of dermatology at University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. “Conversely, if delivered in a limited, safe, and controlled way, agents that activate Wnt signaling might be used to promote hair growth in dormant hair follicles in conditions such as male pattern baldness.” Future plans for research include developing effective means of safely targeting therapeutics to the skin for clinical and cosmetic applications.—Jennifer Barnes