Telomere Dynamics and Telomerase in the Biology of Hair Follicles and their Stem Cells as a Model for Aging Research

J Invest Dermatol. 2021 Apr;141(4S):1031-1040. doi: 10.1016/j.jid.2020.12.006. Epub 2021 Jan 26.


In this review, we propose that telomere length dynamics play an important but underinvestigated role in the biology of the hair follicle (HF), a prototypic, cyclically remodeled miniorgan that shows an intriguing aging pattern in humans. Whereas the HF pigmentary unit ages quickly, its epithelial stem cell (ESC) component and regenerative capacity are surprisingly aging resistant. Telomerase-deficient mice with short telomeres display an aging phenotype of hair graying and hair loss that is attributed to impaired HF ESC mobilization. Yet, it remains unclear whether the function of telomerase and telomeres in murine HF biology translate to the human system. Therefore, we propose new directions for future telomere research of the human HF. Such research may guide the development of novel treatments for selected disorders of human hair growth or pigmentation (e.g., chemotherapy-induced alopecia, telogen effluvium, androgenetic alopecia, cicatricial alopecia, graying). It might also increase the understanding of the global role of telomeres in aging-related human disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / drug effects
  • Aging / genetics*
  • Aging / pathology
  • Animals
  • Hair Diseases / drug therapy
  • Hair Diseases / genetics
  • Hair Diseases / pathology
  • Hair Follicle / cytology
  • Hair Follicle / enzymology
  • Hair Follicle / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Pigmentation Disorders / drug therapy
  • Pigmentation Disorders / genetics
  • Pigmentation Disorders / pathology
  • Stem Cells / enzymology
  • Stem Cells / pathology*
  • Telomerase / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Telomerase / genetics
  • Telomerase / metabolism*
  • Telomere Shortening / drug effects
  • Telomere Shortening / genetics*


  • TERT protein, human
  • Telomerase
  • Tert protein, mouse