The research, led by scientists Heather Christofk and William Lowry, may lead to new drugs that could promote hair growth for people with baldness or alopecia, which is hair loss associated with such factors as hormonal imbalance, stress, aging or chemotherapy treatment.
Hair follicle stem cells are long-lived cells in the hair follicle; they are present in the skin and produce hair throughout a person's lifetime. They are "quiescent," meaning they are normally inactive, but they quickly activate during a new hair cycle, which is when new hair growth occurs. The quiescence of hair follicle stem cells is regulated by many factors. In certain cases they fail to activate, which is what causes hair loss.
In this study, Christofk and Lowry, of Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCLA, found that hair follicle stem cell metabolism is different from other cells of the skin. Cellular metabolism involves the breakdown of the nutrients needed for cells to divide, make energy and respond to their environment. The process of metabolism uses enzymes that alter these nutrients to produce "metabolites." As hair follicle stem cells consume the nutrient glucose — a form of sugar — from the bloodstream, they process the glucose to eventually produce a metabolite called pyruvate.