Scientists out of UC San Francisco have made huge strides in uncovering what they believe could be the cause of alopecia and other forms of baldness, including male-pattern balding.
Researchers found that T cells aka Tregs, autoimmune cells best known for controlling inflammation, may actually be responsible for hair loss as they’ve been proven to directly trigger stem cells in the skin to promote healthy hair growth. This means that if the T cells aren’t functioning efficiently, it disrupts the ability of the stem cells to regenerate hair follicles, thus resulting in balding.
While the cells may be faulty, however, remains to be seen.
“Our hair follicles are constantly recycling: when a hair falls out, a portion of the hair follicle has to grow back,” said Michael Rosenblum, an assistant professor of dermatology at UCSF and senior author. “This has been thought to be an entirely stem cell-dependent process, but it turns out Tregs are essential. If you knock out this one immune cell type, hair just doesn’t grow.”
For the study, scientists conducted experiments that temporarily removed Tregs from the skin of mice. They found that when they shaved the hair off these mice, it didn’t grow back. “We quickly noticed that the shaved patches of hair never grew back, and we thought, ‘Hmm, now that’s interesting,'” Rosenblum said.
Through the use of advanced imaging techniques, the team determined that Tregs are closely tied to the stem cells in the hair follicles that help regenerate hair. When the follicles enter their usual cycle of regeneration, the number of Tregs around it triples.
“It’s as if the skin stem cells and Tregs have co-evolved, so that the Tregs not only guard the stem cells against inflammation but also take part in their regenerative work,” Rosenblum said. “Now the stem cells rely on the Tregs completely to know when it’s time to start regenerating.”
Further supporting their theory, the team determined that the genes associated with alopecia are almost all related to Tregs.
Rosenblum and his team believe that further research and understanding of Tregs’ role in hair growth will ultimately lead to improved treatments for hair loss.
“We think of immune cells as coming into a tissue to fight infection, while stem cells are there to regenerate the tissue after it’s damaged,” he added. “But what we found here is that stem cells and immune cells have to work together to make regeneration possible.”
These findings are a huge development in find the cause, and cure for baldness, thus likely paving the way for a new non-surgical hair regeneration product to hit the market in the not too distant future.
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