How chemotherapy and radiotherapy damage the tissue: Comparative biology lessons from feather and hair models

Qing Xiang Gao, Gui Xuan Zhou, Sung Jan Lin, Ralf Paus, Zhi Cao Yue

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are common modalities for cancer treatment. While targeting rapidly growing cancer cells, they also damage normal tissues and cause adverse effects. From the initial insult such as DNA double-strand break, production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and a general stress response, there are complex regulatory mechanisms that control the actual tissue damage process. Besides apoptosis, a range of outcomes for the damaged cells are possible including cell cycle arrest, senescence, mitotic catastrophe, and inflammatory responses and fibrosis at the tissue level. Feather and hair are among the most actively proliferating (mini-)organs and are highly susceptible to both chemotherapy and radiotherapy damage, thus provide excellent, experimentally tractable model systems for dissecting how normal tissues respond to such injuries. Taking a comparative biology approach to investigate this has turned out to be particularly productive. Started in chicken feather and then extended to murine hair follicles, it was revealed that in addition to p53-mediated apoptosis, several other previously overlooked mechanisms are involved. Specifically, Shh, Wnt, mTOR, cytokine signalling and ROS-mediated degradation of adherens junctions have been implicated in the damage and/or reparative regeneration process. Moreover, we show here that inflammatory responses, which can be prominent upon histological examination of chemo- or radiotherapy-damaged hair follicle, may not be essential for the hair loss phenotype. These studies point to fundamental, evolutionarily conserved mechanisms in controlling tissue responses in vivo, and suggest novel strategies for the prevention and management of adverse effects that arise from chemo- or radiotherapy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)413-418
Number of pages6
JournalExperimental dermatology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2019


  • adverse effect
  • chemotherapy
  • feather
  • hair
  • radiotherapy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Dermatology


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