Immune system may hold key to curing baldness

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

Somewhat by accident, researchers at Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO) have discovered a connection between the body’s immune system and hair loss – a discovery that could eventually lead to a molecular treatment for baldness.

According to a new study in the journal PLOS Biology, immune system cells called macrophages, which gobble up and destroy invading pathogens, have a stimulating effect on skin stem cells and hair growth.

The restorative capability of stem cells permits skin re-growth, but various factors can cut their restorative properties or activate the uncontrolled growth seen in cancerous tissues. The new study may have further ramifications beyond potential hair loss treatment, potentially in the field of cancer research.

The connection between macrophages and hair follicles began the research on anti-inflammatory drugs. CINO scientists found that an anti-inflammatory treatment also reactivated hair growth and this accidental discovery led them to examine interactions between stem cells and cells that cause inflammation as part of an immune response.

The CINO team eventually found that when stem cells are inactive, some macrophages die as a result of process known as apoptosis. The process stimulates the release a number of factors that activate stem cells, causing hair to grow again.

The study team investigated a particular class of proteins released by macrophages called Wnt by treating macrophages with a Wnt-inhibitor substance contained within liposomes. The team saw that after they used this drug, the triggering of hair growth was delayed. Even though this study was performed in mice, the scientists believe their discovery may help in the progression of novel care treatments for hair growth in humans.

The potential for attacking one kind of cell to affect a different one might have broader uses beyond simply growing hair, the researchers said. They added that the use of liposomes for drug delivery is also a promising method of experimentation, which may have ramifications for the study of other pathologies.

Fundamentally, this study is an effort to comprehend how adjusting the environs that surround skin stem cells can affect their regenerative abilities.

“One of the current challenges in the stem cell field is to regulate the activation of endogenous stem cell pools in adult tissues to promote regeneration without the need of transplantation,” said study author Mirna Perez-Moreno, a cell biologist at CINO.

In their report, the study team noted that macrophages have significant impacts on the systems surrounding them and these impacts should be investigated further. They added that their future study will involve looking into the role of macrophages under pathological conditions, such as those found in cancerous skin cells.

“Macrophages are a very diverse cell population,” Perez-Moreno said.  “It was only less that ten years ago that scientists discovered that besides from the bone marrow, macrophages originate from the yolk sac during pregnancy, and there are even other macrophages that proliferate within tissues.”

“The diversity of the sources from which skin resident macrophages originate is not fully understood,” she added.

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