• Stem cell factor/c-Kit signalling in normal and androgenetic alopecia hair follicles

      Randall, Valerie A.; Jenner, Tracey J.; Hibberts, Nigel A.; De Oliveira, Isabel O.; Vafaee, Tayyebeh (2008)
      Androgens stimulate many hair follicles to alter hair colour and size via the hair growth cycle; in androgenetic alopecia tiny, pale hairs gradually replace large, pigmented ones. Since stem cell factor (SCF) is important in embryonic melanocyte migration and maintaining adult rodent pigmentation, we investigated SCF/c-Kit signalling in human hair follicles to determine whether this was altered in androgenetic alopecia. Quantitative immunohistochemistry detected three melanocyte-lineage markers and c-Kit in four focus areas: the epidermis, infundibulum, hair bulb (where pigment is formed) and mid-follicle outer root sheath (ORS). Colocalisation confirmed melanocyte c-Kit expression; cultured follicular melanocytes also exhibited c-Kit. Few ORS cells expressed differentiated melanocyte markers or c-Kit, but NKI/beteb antibody, which also recognises early melanocyte-lineage antigens, identified fourfold more cells, confirmed by colocalisation. Occasional similar bulbar cells were seen. Melanocyte distribution, concentration and c-Kit expression were unaltered in balding follicles. Androgenetic alopecia cultured dermal papilla cells secreted less SCF, measured by ELISA, than normal cells. This identifies three types of melanocyte-lineage cells in human follicles. The c-Kit expression by dendritic, pigmenting, bulbar melanocytes and rounded, differentiated, non-pigmenting ORS melanocytes implicate SCF in maintaining pigmentation and migration into regenerating hair bulbs. Less differentiated, c-Kit-independent cells in the mid-follicle ORS stem cell niche and occasionally in the bulb, presumably a local reserve for long scalp hair growth, implicate other factors in activating stem cells. Androgens appear to reduce alopecia hair colour by inhibiting dermal papilla SCF production, impeding bulbar melanocyte pigmentation. These results may facilitate new treatments for hair colour changes in hirsutism, alopecia or greying.