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BMC Biol. 2006 Feb 3;4:2.

Human hair genealogies and stem cell latency.

Author information

  • 1Department of Pathology, University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, Los Angeles, CA 90033, USA. pck2973@unitel.co.kr

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Stem cells divide to reproduce themselves and produce differentiated progeny. A fundamental problem in human biology has been the inability to measure how often stem cells divide. Although it is impossible to observe every division directly, one method for counting divisions is to count replication errors; the greater the number of divisions, the greater the numbers of errors. Stem cells with more divisions should produce progeny with more replication errors.

METHODS:

To test this approach, epigenetic errors (methylation) in CpG-rich molecular clocks were measured from human hairs. Hairs exhibit growth and replacement cycles and "new" hairs physically reappear even on "old" heads. Errors may accumulate in long-lived stem cells, or in their differentiated progeny that are eventually shed.

RESULTS:

Average hair errors increased until two years of age, and then were constant despite decades of replacement, consistent with new hairs arising from infrequently dividing bulge stem cells. Errors were significantly more frequent in longer hairs, consistent with long-lived but eventually shed mitotic follicle cells.

CONCLUSION:

Constant average hair methylation regardless of age contrasts with the age-related methylation observed in human intestine, suggesting that error accumulation and therefore stem cell latency differs among tissues. Epigenetic molecular clocks imply similar mitotic ages for hairs on young and old human heads, consistent with a restart with each new hair, and with genealogies surreptitiously written within somatic cell genomes.

PMID:
16457718
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC1386708
Free PMC Article
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