The fate of hair follicle melanocytes during the hair growth cycle

Desmond J. Tobin, Andrzej Slominski, Vladimir Botchkarev, Ralf Paus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

88 Scopus citations


The fate of the follicular pigmentary unit during the hair growth cycle has long been one of the great enigmas of both hair follicle and pigment cell biology. Although melanocytes are distributed in several different compartments of the anagen hair follicle, melanogenically active cells are located only in the hair bulb, where they are directly involved in hair shaft pigmentation. These pigment cells are readily detectable only when they become melanogenically active during anagen III of the hair growth cycle. Thus, their status during hair follicle regression (catagen), when melanogenesis is switched off, until they re-appear again as pigment- producing cells in the anagen III hair follicle, has remained poorly defined. Historically, it has been proposed that hair bulb melanocytes adopt a self- perpetuating, catagen-resistant strategy of de-differentiation during hair follicle regression and re-differentiation upon entry into a new anagen phase; however, this explanation remains problematic in the absence of evidence for de-differentiation/re-differentiation plasticity in most nonmalignant cell systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)323-332
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Investigative Dermatology Symposium Proceedings
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1999
Externally publishedYes


  • Alopecia areata
  • C57BL/6
  • Canities
  • Melanin
  • Tyrosinase

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Dermatology
  • Cell Biology


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