In a finding that could help treat an inherited form of baldness, a research team in Manchester claims to have discovered a protein "code" that instructs cells to sprout hair.
By sending the code to more cells than usual, the scientists at the University of Manchester say they were able to breed mice with more fur — a feat that could potentially be replicated in humans.
"During human development, skin cells have the ability to turn into other types of cells to form hair follicles, sweat glands, teeth and nails," explained Denis Headon, who led the research.
"Which cells are transformed into hair follicles is determined by three proteins that are produced by our genes," he said.
"Our research has identified how one of these proteins working outside of the cell interacts at a molecular level to determine an individual’s hair pattern as the embryonic skin spatially organises itself."
The research was targeted at helping people with ectodermal dysplasia, an inherited condition that is characterised by the abnormal development of hair, skin, nails, teeth and sweat glands.
Nourishment for the growing hair is derived from a dermal projection into the hair bulb called the papilla. The epithelial cells which produce a hair are the matrix.
Another accessory organ of the integument associated with the hair follicle is the sebaceous gland. This holocrine produces sebum, an oil which conditions the hair and skin, and whose fatty acids restrict bacterial growth on the epidermis.