A group of specialized mesenchymal cells located at the root of the mammalian hair follicle, known as the follicular or dermal papillary cells, are involved in regulating the hair cycle, during which keratinocytes of the lower follicle undergo proliferation, degeneration and regrowth. Using the arbitrarily primed-PCR approach, we have identified a 1.3 kb messenger RNA that is present in large quantities in cultured rat follicular papillary cells, but not in skin fibroblasts. This mRNA encodes nexin 1, a potent protease inhibitor that can inactivate several growth-modulating serine proteases including thrombin, urokinase and tissue plasminogen activator. In situ hybridization showed that nexin 1 message is accumulated in the follicular papilla cells of anagen follicles, but is undetectable in keratinocytes or other skin mesenchymal cells. In addition, nexin 1 message level varies widely among several immortalized rat vibrissa papillary cell lines, and these levels correlate well with the reported abilities of these cell lines to support in vivo follicular reconstitution. These results suggest a possible role of nexin 1 in regulating hair follicular growth.

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