We report the presence of pluripotent neural crest stem cells in the adult mammalian hair follicle. Numerous neural crest cells reside in the outer root sheath from the bulge to the matrix at the base of the follicle. Bulge explants from adult mouse whisker follicles yield migratory neural crest cells, which in clonal culture form colonies consisting of over a thousand cells. Clones contain neurons, smooth muscle cells, rare Schwann cells and melanocytes, demonstrating pluripotency of the clone-forming cell. Targeted differentiation into Schwann cells and chondrocytes was achieved with neuregulin-1 and bone morphogenetic protein-2, respectively. Serial cloning in vitro demonstrated self-renewal capability. Together, the data show that the adult mouse whisker follicle contains pluripotent neural crest stem cells, termed epidermal neural crest cells (eNCSC). eNCSC are promising candidates for diverse cell therapy paradigms because of their high degree of inherent plasticity and due to their easy accessibility in the skin.
2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.