Retention of the capacity to induce the growth of hair by cultured adult rat vibrissa dermal papilla cells has been investigated. Small pellets of serially cultured papilla cells were implanted into the bases of the exposed follicular epidermis of amputated adult rat vibrissa follicles. Amputated follicles that received no cell implants or implants of cultured dorsal skin fibroblasts were used as controls. Over 50% of follicles implanted with cultured papilla cells in the passage range 1–3 grew hairs. In contrast none of the follicles that received late passage cells (range 6–15) produced hairs; and spontaneous regeneration of hair occurred in only 3% of the control follicles. These results demonstrate that cultured papilla cells of early passage numbers retain their ability to induce hair growth. Histological examination confirmed that the implanted papilla cells interacted with follicular epidermis to organize the development of new, hair-producing bulbs, each containing a discrete dermal papilla. An important observation was that aggregative behaviour leading to papilla formation was only manifested by early passage papilla cell implants. This persisting embryonic characteristic appears to be an essential functional component of papilla cell activity which operates to regulate the profound morphogenetic changes that occur during the hair growth cycle.

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