In the bulge region of the hair follicle, a densely and concentrically packed cell mass is encircled by the arrector pili muscle (APM), which offers a specilized microenvironment (niche) for housing heterogeneous adult stem cells. However, the detailed histological architecture and the cellular composition of the bulge region warrants intensive study and may have implications for the regulation of hair follicle growth regulation. This study was designed to define the gene-expression profiles of putative stem cells and lineage-specific precursors in the mid-portions of plucked hair follicles prepared according to the presence of detectable autofluorescence. The structure was also characterized by using a consecutive sectioning technique. The bulge region of the hair follicle with autofluorescence was precisely excised by employing a micro-dissection procedure. Semi-quantitative reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) was performed to identify the gene expression profiles specific for epithelial, melanocyte and stromal stem cells in the bulge region of the hair follicle visualized by autofluorescence. The morphology and its age-dependent changes of bulge region of the hair follicles with autofluorescence segment were also examined in 9 scalp skin specimens collected from patients aged 30 weeks to 75 years, by serial sectioning and immuno-staining. Gene expression profile analysis revealed that there were cells with mRNA transcripts of DctHiTyraseLo-Tyrp1LoMC1RLoMITFLo/K15Hi/NPNTHi in the bulge region of the hair follicle with autofluorescence segments, which differed from the patterns in hair bulbs. Small cell-protrusions that sprouted from the outer root sheath (ORS) were clearly observed at the APM inserting level in serial sections of hair follicles by immunohistological staining, which were characteristically replete with K15+/K19+expressing cells. Likewise, the muscle bundles of APM positive for smooth muscle actin intimately encircled these cell-protrusions, and the occurrence frequency of the cell-protrusions was increased in fetal scalp skin compared with adult scalp skin. This study provided the evidence that the cell-protrusions occurring at the ORS relative to the APM insertion are more likely to be characteristic of the visible niches that are filled with abundant stem cells. The occurrence frequency of these cell-protrusions was significantly increased in fetal scalp skin samples (128%) as compared with the scalp skins of younger (49.4%) and older (25.4%) adults (P<0.01), but difference in the frequency between the two adult groups were not significant. These results indicated that these cell-protrusions function as a niche house for the myriad stem cells and/or precursors to meet the needs of the development of hair follicles in an embryo. The micro-dissection used in this study was simple and reliable in excising the bulge region of the hair follicle with autofluorescence segments dependent on their autofluorescence is of value for the study of stem cell culture.
hair follicle histology stem cell arrector pili muscle