Limitations of human occipital scalp hair follicle organ culture for studying the effects of minoxidil as a hair growth enhancer

Markus Magerl, Ralf Paus, Nilofer Farjo, Sven Müller-Röver, Eva M.J. Peters, Kerstin Foitzik, Desmond J. Tobin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Minoxidil induces new hair growth in approximately one-third of patienis with androgenetic alopecia after 1 year of treatment. With several conflicting reports in the literature based on small-scale studies, the current study aimed to clarify whether organ culture of human scalp anagen VI hair follicles is a suitable in vitro test system for reproducing, and experimentally dissecting, the recognized in vivo hair-growth-promoting capacity of minoxidil. Hair shaft elongation was studied in terminal anagen VI hair follicles microdissected from the occipital scalp of 36 healthy adults. A total of 2300 hair follicles, approximately 65 per individual, were tested using modifications of a basic organ culture protocol. It is shown here that minoxidil does not significantly increase hair shaft elongation or the duration of anagen VI in ex vivo culture despite several enhancements on the conventional methodology. This disparity to what is seen clinically in minoxidil responders may be explained by the following: (i) use of occipital (rather than frontotemporal or vertex) hair follicles; (ii) use of, already maximally growing, anagen VI hair follicles; (iii) a predominance of hair follicles from minoxidil unresponsive-donors; (iv) use of minoxidil rather than its sulfate metabolite; and/or (v) use of a suboptimal minoxidil dosage. This disparity questions the usefulness of standard human hair follicle organ culture in minoxidil research. Unexpectedly, minoxidil even inhibited hair shaft elongation in the absence of insulin, which may indicate that the actual hair-growth-modulatory effects of minoxidil depend on the concomitant local presence/absence of other growth modulators.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)635-642
Number of pages8
JournalExperimental dermatology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Alopecia
  • Anagen
  • Catagen
  • Hair growth cycle
  • Insulin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Dermatology


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