Interferon-gamma is a potent inducer of catagen-like changes in cultured human anagen hair follicles

Br J Dermatol. 2005 Apr;152(4):623-31. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2133.2005.06453.x.


Background: Interferon (IFN)-gamma appears to be an important hair cycle modulator in mice. It is unclear whether it has similar hair growth modulatory functions in human hair follicles.

Objectives: To study whether IFN-gamma can be exploited to modulate the growth, pigmentation and/or cycling of organ-cultured human anagen scalp hair follicles, as an in vitro indicator system for how IFN-gamma affects human hair growth in vivo. This was correlated with the hair follicle expression patterns of IFN-gamma receptors alpha and beta. In addition, we wanted to establish a new, simple tool for the rapid experimental induction of catagen in vitro.

Methods: Normal human scalp hair follicles in the anagen VI stage of the hair cycle were cultured according to the method of Philpott et al., with or without IFN-gamma (50-1000 IU mL(-1)). Hair shaft elongation and pigmentation changes were measured, complemented by quantitative histomorphometry to assess changes in hair follicle cycling (hair cycle score), proliferation (Ki-67), melanogenesis (Masson-Fontana) and apoptosis (TUNEL). IFN-gamma receptors were also localized by immunofluorescence and EnVision technique. As transforming growth factor (TGF)-beta2 is a recognized key inducer of catagen in human hair follicles, TGF-beta2 expression was investigated by tyramide signal amplification and reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction in anagen hair follicles treated with vehicle (phosphate-buffered saline) or IFN-gamma.

Results: IFN-gamma rapidly inhibited hair elongation in cultured human anagen hair follicles and induced morphological signs of catagen transformation after only 4 days of culture, i.e. faster than with other reported catagen-inducers (e.g. TGF-beta2). Proliferation was inhibited, apoptosis was increased and follicular melanogenesis was switched off in hair bulb keratinocytes treated in situ with IFN-gamma. Anagen hair follicles displayed strong IFN-gamma receptor alpha-like immunoreactivity, while the immunoreactivity for IFN-gamma receptor beta in the hair matrix was only weak. TGF-beta2 immunoreactivity and mRNA transcript levels were enhanced in hair follicles treated with IFN-gamma.

Conclusions: These data suggest that IFN-gamma is a potent catagen inducer in normal human scalp hair follicles, which express cognate receptors, and show that IFN-gamma administration offers an excellent tool for experimental catagen induction in organ-cultured human hair follicles. This catagen induction probably occurs at least in part via upregulation of the recognized catagen-stimulatory growth factor TGF-beta2.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Cell Division / drug effects
  • Hair Follicle / drug effects*
  • Hair Follicle / growth & development
  • Humans
  • Interferon-gamma / immunology
  • Interferon-gamma / pharmacology*
  • Organ Culture Techniques / methods
  • Receptors, Interferon / analysis
  • Receptors, Interferon / immunology
  • Scalp
  • Skin Pigmentation / drug effects
  • Skin Pigmentation / physiology
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta / analysis
  • Up-Regulation / drug effects


  • Receptors, Interferon
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta
  • Interferon-gamma