Culture of the human pilosebaceous unit, hair follicle and sebaceous gland

Exp Dermatol. 2018 May;27(5):571-577. doi: 10.1111/exd.13669.


Terence Kealey first pioneered the isolation and organ maintenance of human eccrine and sebaceous glands in the early to mid-1980. This led to subsequent methods describing the isolation and culture of human hair follicles, the human pilosebaceous unit as well as the sebaceous duct. The importance of these models in the study of the biology of human skin glands and appendages has been demonstrated in numerous publications and their importance as models for animal replacement, refinement and reduction (3Rs) is increasingly important. In particular, in vitro (ex vivo) hair follicle culture has played a significant part in helping elucidate the role of signalling molecules in regulating hair growth and hair fibre formation and has been especially useful in understanding metabolic aspects of hair growth. However, obtaining sufficient numbers of hair follicles is becoming increasingly difficult as plastic surgery becomes less invasive and smaller skin samples provided. There is therefore an urgent requirement for the next generation of in vitro models using cell lines and tissue engineering, and this has led to the development of immortalised cell lines as well as attempts to model hair follicle embryogenesis in vitro and development of skin on a chip.

Keywords: 3Rs; hair follicle; organ maintenance; pilosebaceous unit; sebaceous gland.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animal Use Alternatives
  • Hair / growth & development
  • Hair Follicle*
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological*
  • Organ Culture Techniques*
  • Sebaceous Glands*