For people with thinning hair the idea of plucking out the few strands that remain may fill them with horror. —
However a new study suggests that pulling out the lingering follicles could stimulate the scalp into a burst of regeneration which not only replaces the missing hair but triggers a widespread spurt of regrowth.
Researchers at the University of California were amazed to find that plucking out 200 hairs in a small area prompted 1,200 replacement hairs to grow.
And the regrowth was not confined to the plucking area, but spread out into neighboring parts of the scalp, boosting hair volume.
Although the treatment might seem extreme, and has so far only been shown to work in mice, scientists believe the discovery could lead to the creating of drugs or therapies which mimic the effect of plucking.
"The work leads to potential new targets for treating alopecia, a form of hair loss," said Cheng-Ming Chuong Professor of pathology at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California.
"It is a good example of how basic research can lead to a work with potential translational value.”
The research was published in the journal Cell,video presentation can be found here.
Previous research by dermatologists had shown that when hair follicles are damaged it affects the adjacent skin and tissue and influence hair regeneration. It is the reason that vigorously massaging the scalp is recommended, for hair growth.
To test whether they it was possible to stimulate the scalp enough so that follicle growth was activated, the researchers plucked 200 follicles, one by one, from the back of a mouse.
When the area was more than 6mm, nothing happened. But scientists discovered that if plucking area was kept below 5mm, the hairs not only grew back but regrew in greater abundance in the plucked area and outside of it.
Plucking from circular areas with diameters between three and five millimeters triggered the regeneration of between 450 and 1,300 hairs.
Through molecular analyses, the team showed that these plucked follicles signal distress by releasing inflammatory proteins, which recruit immune cells to rush to the site of the injury.
These immune cells then secrete signalling molecules which communicate to both plucked and unplucked follicles telling them that it's time to grow hair.
It works on the principle of "quorum sensing," in which an entire system responds to stimuli that affect some, but not all members. It explains how social animals like ants and bees work together as one entity.
In this case, quorum sensing underlies how the hair follicle system responds to the plucking of some, but not all hairs.
And scientists think that the effect may not be confined to just hair. There is a chance that causing slight damage to other organs or parts of the body may stimulate a burst of regrowth.
"The implication of the work is that parallel processes may also exist in the physiological or pathogenic processes of other organs, although they are not as easily observed as hair regeneration,” added Prof Chuong.
The research was published in the journal Cell,and can watch video presentation here.
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