The genetic signals that explain why bits of us are hairy, and bits of us are not, are described in this week's Nature (Vol. 422, No. 6929, 20 March 2003, pp. 317-322). Three steps are needed to turn skin stem cells into hair follicles, rather than other cell types. Elaine Fuchs of Rockefeller University, New York City, and colleagues have found that a skin stem cell must first receive two signals from its neighbours. These activate elements in the cell's nucleus, which in turn lower levels of a protein, E-cadherin. This changes the shape of the junctions that separate cells, allowing a pit to form in the skin – the third step - and a hair follicle to form.
In an accompanying News and Views article, Yann Barrandon of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL), University Hospital (CHUV), Lausanne, Switzerland, discusses the background and implications of this work.
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Colin Jamora (senior author)
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