Oct. 15, 2020
An international team of researchers has published a study showing how the control of stem cell metabolism is critical to maintaining hair follicles. The study appeared in the high-impact journal Cell Metabolism.
University of Arkansas researchers included Kyle Quinn, associate professor of biomedical engineering, and Olivia Kolenc, a graduate student in Quinn’s lab. The project was led by Sara Wickström, associate professor at the University of Helsinki, and included researchers from the research groups of Professor Sabine Eming at the University of Cologne and Martin Denzel at the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing in Germany.
The team studied how the metabolism of stem cells in hair follicles is critical to the growth and long-term maintenance of hair. The follicles are unique in mammals because unlike most organs or tissues, they naturally regenerate and cycle through phases of rest, growth and degeneration. Those cycles are maintained by stem cells. Kolenc used advanced non-invasive skin imaging to monitor hair follicle metabolism in live mice.
Kolenc’s work showed how the metabolism of stem cells changes as the follicle transitions to a growth phase, which provided a critical foundation to the study’s larger goal of discovering the cell signaling pathways associated with the metabolic control of stem cell fate and hair follicle cycles.
The study provides insight into how our organs are maintained by stem cells and how aging can result in conditions such as hair loss. Kolenc said hair follicle stem cells aren’t like some stem cells, which can transform into a wide variety of different cell types. Instead, she said, they can transform to match the surrounding area in the skin tissue.
“Hair follicle stem cells are able to differentiate into a subset of what’s in their surrounding area,” she said. “They can’t just create any other cell, but they can contribute to regeneration and increasing the number of cells within the skin tissue.”
Kolenc said hair follicle stem cells are unique among the cells in our skin because they can contribute to repair and regeneration of the skin.
“There are few populations of stem cells known to exist within the skin, so this is really a big target to help skin wound healing,” she said.
Kolenc said the opportunity to contribute to such a large-scale project was special.
“It’s a bit humbling,” she said. “I contributed a small part to a large project that was conducted over many years. It’s a cool feeling to see something like that with my name on it.”
“Olivia played an important role in this study by monitoring hair follicle stem cells within their natural environment in live skin,” Quinn said. “The insights she gained during this work will be very helpful as she continues studying how our metabolic imaging techniques can be applied to aging and wound healing research.”