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J Invest Dermatol. 1993 Jul;101(1 Suppl):148S-152S.

Potassium channel conductance as a control mechanism in hair follicles.

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Dermatology Research, Upjohn Company, Kalamazoo, MI 49001.


The opening of intracellular potassium channels is a common mechanism of action for a set of anti-hypertensive drugs that includes the hair-growth-inducing agent minoxidil. Recent work suggests potassium channel openers (PCOs) also influence hair growth. Correlative studies demonstrate that a series of PCOs including minoxidil, pinacidil, P-1075, an active pinacidil analog, RP-49,356, cromakalim, and nicorandil maintain hair growth in cultured vibrissa follicles. Studies using balding stumptail macaques verify that minoxidil, P-1075, and cromakalim but not RP-49,356 stimulate hair growth. The definition of potassium channels and documentation of drug effects on these channels is classically done using electrophysiologic techniques. Such studies require the identification and isolation of target cells. Both these are among the unsolved problems in the area of hair biology. Estimating K+ flux using 86Rb+ as a K+ tracer is an accepted method of assessing potassium channel conductance in other organ systems. Both pinacidil and RP-49,356 induce measurable Rb+ flux in isolated vibrissa follicles and a hair epithelial cell line whereas neither minoxidil nor minoxidil sulfate had measurable effects. Potassium channels have been studied successfully in other organ systems using specific pharmacologic blockers for the various channel subtypes. Blockers including glyburide, tetraethylammonium, and procaine failed to inhibit minoxidil stimulation of cultured follicles. The current explosion of knowledge on potassium channel biology, cloning of channels, and continued progress in hair biology promise to clarify the role of K+ ions in the control of hair follicles.

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