In mammals, hair follicles produce hairs that fulfill a number of functions including thermoregulation, collecting sensory information, protection against environmental trauma, social communication, and mimicry. Hair follicles develop as a result of epithelial-mesenchymal interactions between epidermal keratinocytes committed to hair-specific differentiation and cluster of dermal fibroblasts that form follicular papilla. During postnatal life, hair follicles show patterns of cyclic activity with periods of active growth and hair production (anagen), apoptosis-driven involution (catagen), and relative resting (telogen). During last decade, substantial progress has been achieved in delineating molecular mechanisms that control hair follicle development and cyclic activity. In this review, we summarize the data demonstrating that regulation of hair follicle development in the embryo and control of hair follicle growth during postnatal life are highly conserved and both require involvement of similar molecular mechanisms. Since many of the molecules that control hair follicle development and cycling are also involved in regulating morphogenesis and postnatal biology of other ectodermal derivatives, such as teeth, feathers, and mammary glands, basic principles and molecular mechanisms that govern hair follicle development and growth may also be applicable for other developmental systems.
Copyright 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.