R-spondin proteins are novel Wnt/β-catenin agonists, which signal through their receptors leucine-rich repeat-containing G-protein coupled receptor (LGR) 4/5/6 and substantially enhance Wnt/β-catenin activity. R-spondins are reported to function in embryonic development. They also play important roles in stem cell functions in adult tissues, such as the intestine and mammary glands, which largely rely on Wnt/β-catenin signaling. However, in the skin epithelium and hair follicles, the information about R-spondins is deficient, although the expressions and functions of their receptors, LGR4/5/6, have already been studied in detail. In the present study, highly-enriched expression of the R-spondin family genes (Rspo1/2/3/4) in the hair follicle dermal papilla is revealed. Expression of Rspo1 in the dermal papilla is specifically and prominently upregulated before anagen entry, and exogenous recombinant R-spondin1 protein injection in mid-telogen leads to precocious anagen entry. Moreover, R-spondin1 activates Wnt/β-catenin signaling in cultured bulge stem cells in vitro, changing their fate determination without altering the cell proliferation. Our pioneering study uncovers a role of R-spondin1 in the activation of cultured hair follicle stem cells and the regulation of hair cycle progression, shedding new light on the governance of Wnt/β-catenin signaling in skin biology and providing helpful clues for future treatment of hair follicle disorders.
Keywords: R-spondin; Wnt/β-catenin; hair cycle; hair follicle stem cells.