A new study has scientists contemplating a fascinating discovery: Confusion among stem cells may cause hair follicle miniaturization, leading to hair loss as adults age.
Studying Stem Cells and Hair Loss
Stem cells are building blocks of life within a living organism. These unique structures have the ability to create an indefinite number of additional cells, each of which can be uniquely differentiated. In this way, stem cells are the source from which other body cells are born. Multicellular organisms grow through this process of differentiation and rapid cellular replication, transforming slowly from zygote to baby to grown adult. Indeed, stem cells are one of the major drivers behind the development of the human body from conception to death. It’s not surprising, then, that scientists have begun looking at stem cells to learn why androgenetic alopecia (hair loss) causes so many adults to lose their hair in their 30s and 40s.
Stem Cell Damage, Collagen, and Hair Follicle Miniaturization
A team of researchers believes they have found an answer. By analyzing stem cells in laboratory mice, researchers observed a fascinating chain of events that seems to render hair-producing stem cells quiescent (inactive). Like every living cell, stem cells accumulate damage as they age. Over time, basic damage to the DNA of the stem cell appears to make it more difficult to produce a specific type of collagen, COL17A1. As collagen production dropped off, researchers observed a phenomenon known as hair follicle miniaturization. During miniaturization, hair follicles shrink and fall into dormancy. Hair loss results as follicle after follicle goes dormant and stops producing hair. Follicle miniaturization is a well-known cause for male and female hair loss, though researchers have never been able to offer a single explanation for its cause. Now, it seems at least 1 major reason for miniaturization could be damage to the stem cells within the hair follicle.
Treating Hair Follicle Miniaturization with Laser Therapy
Laser therapy is one treatment option for adults who suffer with hair loss induced by follicle miniaturization. Exposure from a low level laser increases circulation, carrying more oxygen and nutrients to each individual hair follicle. In clinical trials, laser therapy has been shown to increase hair count by up to 51% compared to placebo device, though additional studies are needed to determine the exact effects of LLLT on stem cells.
Laser Therapy with Capillus®
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(i) Hiroyuki Matsumura1, Yasuaki Mohri1, Nguyen Thanh Binh, Hironobu Morinaga, Makoto Fukuda, Mayumi Ito, Sotaro Kurata, Jan Hoeijmakers, Emi K. Nishimura. "Hair follicle aging is driven by transepidermal elimination of stem cells via COL17A1 proteolysis."
Visit ScienceMag.org for study details and abstract.