In a recent study from UCLA, scientists find a new way to activate the stem cells in the hair follicle to regrow hair.
The finding may lead to new drugs that promote hair growth for people with baldness or alopecia.
Alopecia is a hair loss symptom caused by hormonal imbalance, stress, aging or chemotherapy treatment.
Hair follicle stem cells are long-lived cells in the hair follicle; they are present in the skin and produce hair throughout a person’s lifetime.
They are “quiescent,” meaning they are normally inactive, but they quickly activate during a new hair cycle, which is when new hair growth occurs.
The quiescence of hair follicle stem cells is regulated by many factors. In certain cases they fail to activate, which is what causes hair loss.
Researchers find that hair follicle stem cell metabolism is different from other cells of the skin.
Cellular metabolism involves the breakdown of the nutrients needed for cells to divide, make energy and respond to their environment.
The process of metabolism uses enzymes that alter these nutrients to produce “metabolites.”
As hair follicle stem cells consume the nutrient glucose—a form of sugar—from the bloodstream, they process the glucose to eventually produce a metabolite called pyruvate.
The cells then can either send pyruvate to their mitochondria—the part of the cell that creates energy—or can convert pyruvate into another metabolite called lactate.
The team first blocked the production of lactate in mice and showed that this prevented hair follicle stem cell activation.
Conversely, they increased lactate production in mice and this accelerated hair follicle stem cell activation, increasing the hair cycle.
The researchers said that seeing how altering lactate production in the mice influenced hair growth led them to look for potential drugs that could be applied to the human skin and have the same effect.
The team find two drugs might have such functions. Both drugs are tested in mice and show that they can quicker hair growth by increasing production of lactate and in turn driving hair follicle stem cell activation.
“Through this study, we gained a lot of interesting insight into new ways to activate stem cells,” said Aimee Flores, a predoctoral trainee in Lowry’s lab and first author of the study.
“The idea of using drugs to stimulate hair growth through hair follicle stem cells is very promising given how many millions of people, both men and women, deal with hair loss.”
“I think we’ve only just begun to understand the critical role metabolism plays in hair growth and stem cells in general; I’m looking forward to the potential application of these new findings for hair loss and beyond.”
News source: UCLA. The content is edited for length and style purposes.
Figure legend: This image is for illustrative purposes only.