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Int J Trichology. 2009 Jul;1(2):83-93. doi: 10.4103/0974-7753.58550.

Aging of the hair follicle pigmentation system.

Author information

1
Centre for Skin Sciences, School of Life Sciences, University of Bradford, Bradford, West Yorkshire, Great Britain.

Abstract

Skin and hair phenotypes are powerful cues in human communication. They impart much information, not least about our racial, ethnic, health, gender and age status. In the case of the latter parameter, we experience significant change in pigmentation in our journey from birth to puberty and through to young adulthood, middle age and beyond. The hair follicle pigmentary unit is perhaps one of our most visible, accessible and potent aging sensors, with marked dilution of pigment intensity occurring long before even subtle changes are seen in the epidermis. This dichotomy is of interest as both skin compartments contain melanocyte subpopulations of similar embryologic (i.e., neural crest) origin. Research groups are actively pursuing the study of the differential aging of melanocytes in the hair bulb versus the epidermis and in particular are examining whether this is in part linked to the stringent coupling of follicular melanocytes to the hair growth cycle. Whether some follicular melanocyte subpopulations are affected, like epidermal melanocytes, by UV irradiation is not yet clear. A particular target of research into hair graying or canities is the nature of the melanocyte stem compartment and whether this is depleted due to reactive oxygen species-associated damage, coupled with an impaired antioxidant status, and a failure of melanocyte stem cell renewal. Over the last few years, we and others have developed advanced in vitro models and assay systems for isolated hair follicle melanocytes and for intact anagen hair follicle organ culture which may provide research tools to elucidate the regulatory mechanisms of hair follicle pigmentation. Long term, it may be feasible to develop strategies to modulate some of these aging-associated changes in the hair follicle that impinge particularly on the melanocyte populations.

KEYWORDS:

Hair follicle; melanocyte; reactive oxygen species

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