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FASEB J. 1999 Feb;13(2):395-410.

A new role for neurotrophins: involvement of brain-derived neurotrophic factor and neurotrophin-4 in hair cycle control.

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  • 1Department of Dermatology, Humboldt University, Berlin, D-13122 Germany.


Neurotrophins exert many biological effects not directly targeted at neurons, including modulation of keratinocyte proliferation and apoptosis in vitro. Here we exploit the cyclic growth and regression activity of the murine hair follicle to explore potential nonneuronal functions of neurotrophins in the skin, and analyze the follicular expression and hair growth-modulatory function of BDNF, NT-4, and their high-affinity receptor, TrkB. The cutaneous expression of BDNF and NT-4 mRNA was strikingly hair cycle dependent and peaked during the spontaneous, apoptosis-driven hair follicle regression (catagen). During catagen, BDNF mRNA and immunoreactivity, as well as NT-4-immunoreactivity, were expressed in the regressing hair follicle compartments, whereas TrkB mRNA and immunoreactivity were seen in dermal papilla fibroblasts, epithelial strand, and hair germ. BDNF or NT-4 knockout mice showed significant catagen retardation, whereas BDNF-overexpressing mice displayed acceleration of catagen and significant shortening of hair length. Finally, BDNF and NT-4 accelerated catagen development in murine skin organ culture. Together, our data suggest that BDNF and NT-4 play a previously unrecognized role in skin physiology as agents of hair growth control. Thus, TrkB agonists and antagonists deserve exploration as novel hair growth-modulatory drugs for the management of common hair growth disorders.

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