Male pattern balding may be due to stem cell inactivation: study

January 4, 2011, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
Top panels show progenitor cells marked in green (left) and brown (right) in cross section of a hair follicle. Bottom panel shows side view of hair follicle with stem-cell- and progenitor-cell-rich areas. Credit: George Cotsarelis, MD, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

Given the amount of angst over male pattern balding, surprisingly little is known about its cause at the cellular level. In a new study, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, a team led by George Cotsarelis, MD, chair of the Department of Dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, has found that stem cells play an unexpected role in explaining what happens in bald scalp.

Using cell samples from men undergoing hair transplants, the team compared follicles from bald scalp and non-bald scalp, and found that bald areas had the same number of as normal scalp in the same person. However, they did find that another, more mature cell type called a progenitor cell was markedly depleted in the follicles of bald scalp.

The researchers surmised that balding may arise from a problem with stem-cell activation rather than the numbers of stem cells in follicles. In male pattern balding, hair follicles actually shrink; they don't disappear. The hairs are essentially microscopic on the bald part of the scalp compared to other spots.

"We asked: 'Are stem cells depleted in bald scalp?'" says Cotsarelis. "We were surprised to find the number of stem cells was the same in the bald part of the scalp compared with other places, but did find a difference in the abundance of a specific type of cell, thought to be a progenitor cell," he says. "This implies that there is a problem in the activation of stem cells converting to progenitor cells in bald scalp."

At this point, the researchers don't know why there is a breakdown in this conversion. "However, the fact that there are normal numbers of stem cells in bald scalp gives us hope for reactivating those stem cells," notes Cotsarelis.

In 2007, the Cotsarelis lab found that hair follicles in adult mice regenerate by re-awakening genes once active only in developing embryos. The team determined that in a created an "embryonic window" of opportunity to manipulate the number of new hair follicles that form. By activating dormant embryonic molecular pathways stem cells were coaxed into forming new hair follicles.

In the JCI study, the group also found a progenitor cell population in mice that is analogous to the human cells; these cells were able to make hair follicles and grow hair when injected into an immunodeficient mice.

The researchers say their next steps will be to study the stem and progenitor populations in other types of hair loss, including female pattern hair loss. The information may assist in developing cell-based treatments for male pattern balding by isolating stem cells and expanding them to add back to the scalp directly. They will also focus on identifying factors that could be used topically to convert stem cells to progenitor cells to generate normal large hairs.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Bioengineered soft microfibers improve T-cell production

January 18, 2018
T cells play a key role in the body's immune response against pathogens. As a new class of therapeutic approaches, T cells are being harnessed to fight cancer, promising more precise, longer-lasting mitigation than traditional, ...

Weight flux alters molecular profile, study finds

January 17, 2018
The human body undergoes dramatic changes during even short periods of weight gain and loss, according to a study led by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Secrets of longevity protein revealed in new study

January 17, 2018
Named after the Greek goddess who spun the thread of life, Klotho proteins play an important role in the regulation of longevity and metabolism. In a recent Yale-led study, researchers revealed the three-dimensional structure ...

The HLF gene protects blood stem cells by maintaining them in a resting state

January 17, 2018
The HLF gene is necessary for maintaining blood stem cells in a resting state, which is crucial for ensuring normal blood production. This has been shown by a new research study from Lund University in Sweden published in ...

Magnetically applied MicroRNAs could one day help relieve constipation

January 17, 2018
Constipation is an underestimated and debilitating medical issue related to the opioid epidemic. As a growing concern, researchers look to new tools to help patients with this side effect of opioid use and aging.

Researchers devise decoy molecule to block pain where it starts

January 16, 2018
For anyone who has accidentally injured themselves, Dr. Zachary Campbell not only sympathizes, he's developing new ways to blunt pain.

4 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

jjoensuu
5 / 5 (3) Jan 05, 2011
So judging from this article we always have stem cells in our body... (and not just when we are embryos)...
seb
not rated yet Jan 05, 2011
Dunno but it seems to me that people who dont have baldness are the unusual ones.. The rest of us, we're operating the way man has always operated and are perfectly normal.

Teehee
CSharpner
1 / 5 (1) Jan 05, 2011
So judging from this article we always have stem cells in our body... (and not just when we are embryos)...

Yes, of course, hence the term "adult stem cells". From what I've read over the years, they're a little different than embryonic stem sells.
geokstr
1 / 5 (1) Jan 05, 2011
Yes, of course, hence the term "adult stem cells". From what I've read over the years, they're a little different than embryonic stem sells.

And "adult stem cells" have already been used in dozens of applications for a long time, and research has shown that you can grow pretty much any type of cell from them. However, "embryonic stem cells" are a political ploy to help justify the barbaric practice of abortion on demand. And as a wonderful side incentive, abortion doctors and women who are inconvenienced by the inevitable results of their own irresponsibility will also have found a new revenue stream.

And so far, the applications of "embryonic stem cells" are pretty much theoretical. But what's another abortion if you can get a new hairline to impress the chicks with, whom you can boink without consequences to you, which you can use to then create so many more cures for "male pattern baldness"?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.