Epithelial growth by rat vibrissae follicles in vitro requires mesenchymal contact via native extracellular matrix

Richard E. Link, Ralf Paus, Kurt S. Stenn, Elisabeth Kuklinska, Gisela Moellmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


An in vitro assay utilizing the rat vibrissa anagen follicle as a model for studying the eithelial-mesenchymal interactions (EMI) in hair growth is scribed. Through selective disruption of the epithelial-mesenchymal interface, we investigate whether the specialized extracellular matrix (ECM) of the dermal papilla and basement membrane zone (BMZ) serves a crucial function in hair follicle EMI. Epithelial bulbs incubated intact within their follicular sheaths incorporate thymidine primarily into cells of the hair matrix and outer root sheath, as shown by autoradiography. However, after removal of its mesenchymal associations (dermal papilla and extrabulbar connective tissue), the epithelial bulb showed no incorporation. Neither externally added collagen (type I or IV) nor the basement membrane components in Matrigel could substitute for the growth supporting influence of native surrounding stroma. Mechanical separation of the bulb from the dermal papilla in the basement membrane zone inhibited thymidine incorporation by the epithelium even though mesenchyme was still in close proximity. Enzymatic digestion of the dermal papilla ECM and the basal lamina by Disease, a fibronectinase and type IV collagenase, also inhibited bulb growth without evidence of cytotoxicity. These experiments suggest that direct epithelial to mesenchymal contact is required for the support of follicular epithelial growth in vitro and that specific ECM components, possibly fibronectin and/or type IV collagen, rather than diffusable factors alone, play a crucial role in the mechanism of hair follicle EMI. The in vitro system described here provides an alternative to developmental EMI models and may serve as a valuable tool for studying EMI in the adult mammalian organism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)202-207
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Investigative Dermatology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 1990
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Dermatology
  • Cell Biology


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