Background and objectives: A considerable portion of the hair follicle remains attached to plucked hair and can be used for follicle cell culture. In this study we have phenotyped these cells in an attempt to identify the stem cell fraction. Reports in the literature have indicated that this cell population may be positive for cytokeratin (CK) 19. Because stem cells in general need to be protected from apoptosis, the presence of the apoptosis-suppressing Bcl-2 protein, together with the absence of the apoptosis-promoting Bax and the CK profile may be used as an indicator of the stem cell population in the hair follicle, and in cultures of hair follicle cells.
Methods: Hair follicles from skin biopsies and plucked hair were derived from the scalps of healthy volunteers. Follicular cells were cultured from the plucked hairs. These hair follicles, plucked hairs and cultured cells were examined for their CK profiles, which are indicative of the type of cell (basal/stem cells) and for their status with respect to the proliferation marker Ki-67, Bax and Bcl-2.
Results: We found coexpression for CK19 and Bcl-2, but not Bax in two distinct areas, localized in the upper and lower third of the follicle from both skin biopsies and plucked hairs, while proliferation markers were negative in these areas. CK19 and Bcl-2 were also coexpressed in combination in a fraction of the follicular cell culture. The skin basal cell marker CK14 could be found throughout the outer root sheath of the hair follicle from both skin biopsies and plucked hairs, as well as in the follicular cell culture.
Conclusions: Thus, CK19/Bcl-2-positive and Bax-negative cells can be obtained from cells derived from plucked hair and are retained in cultures made from these cells. If this phenotype represents follicular stem cells, our finding endorses the assumption that stem cells are located in the bulge area of the hair follicle, as we did not find them in or near the dermal papilla.