The activity of keratinocytes in the hair follicle is regulated by signals from a specialized mesenchymal niche, the dermal papilla (DP). Here, mice expressing cre recombinase in the DP were developed to probe the interaction between follicular keratinocytes and the DP in vivo. Inactivation of the beta-catenin gene within DP of fully developed hair follicles results in dramatically reduced proliferation of the progenitors and their progeny that generate the hair shaft, and, subsequently, premature induction of the destructive phase of the hair cycle. It also prevents regeneration of the cycling follicle from stem cells. Gene expression analysis reveals that beta-catenin activity in the DP regulates signaling pathways, including FGF and IGF, that can mediate the DP's inductive effects. This study reveals a signaling loop that employs Wnt/beta-catenin signaling in both epithelial progenitor cells and their mesenchymal niche to govern and coordinate the interactions between these compartments to guide hair morphogenesis.
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