Little is known about the function of desmosomes in the normal structure and function of hair. Therefore, it was surprising that mice without desmoglein 3 (the autoantigen in pemphigus vulgaris) not only developed mucous membrane and skin lesions like pemphigus patients, but also developed hair loss. Analysis of this phenotype indicated that hair was normal through the first growth phase (‘follicular neogenesis’). Around day 20, however, when the hair follicles entered the resting phase of the hair growth cycle (telogen), mice with a targeted disruption of the desmoglein 3 gene (DSG3-/-) lost hair in a wave-like pattern from the head to the tail. Hair then regrew and was lost again in the same pattern with the next synchronous hair cycle. In adults, hair was lost in patches. Gentle hair pulls with adhesive tape showed that anagen (growing) hairs were firmly anchored in DSG3-/- mice, but telogen hairs came out in clumps compared to that of DSG3+/− and +/+ littermates in which telogen hairs were firmly anchored. Histology of bald skin areas in DSG3-/- mice showed cystic telogen hair follicles without hair shafts. Histology of hair follicles in early telogen, just before clinical hair loss occurred, showed loss of cell adhesion (acantholysis) between the cells surrounding the telogen club and the basal layer of the outer root sheath epithelium. Electron microscopy revealed ‘half-desmosomes’ at the plasma membranes of acantholytic cells. Similar acantholytic histology and ultrastructural findings have been previously reported in skin and mucous membrane lesions of DSG3-/- mice and pemphigus vulgaris patients. Immunoperoxidase staining with an antibody raised against mouse desmoglein 3 showed intense staining on the cell surface of keratinocytes surrounding the telogen hair club in normal mice. Similar staining was seen in human telogen hair with an anti-human desmoglein 3 antibody. Finally, a scalp biopsy from a pemphigus vulgaris patient showed empty telogen hair follicles. These data demonstrate that desmoglein 3 is not only critical for cell adhesion in the deep stratified squamous epithelium, but also for anchoring the telogen hair to the outer root sheath of the follicle and underscore the importance of desmosomes in maintaining the normal structure and function of hair.

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