Stem cells from hair follicles can develop into neurons, muscle and more, suggesting that hair is a potent and accessible source of cells for regenerating tissues.
Because hair follicles constantly cycle through phases of growth, rest and regrowth, they require follicle cells to be constantly replenished.
A small bulge on the side of hair follicles holds stem cells that birth follicle cells.
Last September, researchers from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Chevy Chase, Maryland found that cells in mouse hair follicles have characteristics of true stem cells.
Robert Hoffman of University of California, San Diego and colleagues have now shown that the stem cells can give rise to mature neurons.
Previously, Hoffman and colleagues had shown that bulge-area stem cells expressed nestin, a marker for stem cells that were becoming neural cells.
Isolating and culturing the stem cells from mouse whiskers, the researchers have now shown that after one week they matured into neurons and other neural cells such as astrocytes.
A few weeks to months later, the stem cells differentiated into skin cells, smooth muscle cells and pigment-producing cells called melanocytes.