Hair follicle aging is driven by transepidermal elimination of stem cells via COL17A1 proteolysis

Science. 2016 Feb 5;351(6273):aad4395. doi: 10.1126/science.aad4395. Epub 2016 Feb 4.


Hair thinning and loss are prominent aging phenotypes but have an unknown mechanism. We show that hair follicle stem cell (HFSC) aging causes the stepwise miniaturization of hair follicles and eventual hair loss in wild-type mice and in humans. In vivo fate analysis of HFSCs revealed that the DNA damage response in HFSCs causes proteolysis of type XVII collagen (COL17A1/BP180), a critical molecule for HFSC maintenance, to trigger HFSC aging, characterized by the loss of stemness signatures and by epidermal commitment. Aged HFSCs are cyclically eliminated from the skin through terminal epidermal differentiation, thereby causing hair follicle miniaturization. The aging process can be recapitulated by Col17a1 deficiency and prevented by the forced maintenance of COL17A1 in HFSCs, demonstrating that COL17A1 in HFSCs orchestrates the stem cell-centric aging program of the epithelial mini-organ.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / metabolism
  • Aging / pathology
  • Alopecia / genetics
  • Alopecia / metabolism*
  • Alopecia / pathology
  • Animals
  • Autoantigens / genetics
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cellular Senescence / genetics
  • Cellular Senescence / physiology*
  • Collagen Type XVII
  • DNA Damage
  • Desmosomes / metabolism
  • Desmosomes / pathology
  • Female
  • Genomic Instability
  • Hair Follicle / metabolism
  • Hair Follicle / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Middle Aged
  • Non-Fibrillar Collagens / deficiency*
  • Non-Fibrillar Collagens / genetics
  • Proteolysis*
  • Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Stem Cells / pathology*


  • Autoantigens
  • Non-Fibrillar Collagens