A New Soldier Against Skin Cancer: The Hair Follicle

The Context: Some genetic mutations are risk factors for developing diseases such as cancer. However, while certain mutations may lead to cancer in some tissues, they can be ineffective in others, and the reasons why remain a mystery. A gene called HRAS is frequently mutated in a range of cancer types, including skin cancer.

The Study: When HRAS-mutated cells act within a hair follicle, they multiply and send signals, but they also spark follicle regeneration, which helps contain the mutant cells, finds a new study in the Journal of Cell Biology led by NYSCF – Robertson Stem Cell Investigator Dr. Valentina Greco of Yale University.

The Importance: Understanding how hair follicles protect against cancer mutations will aid in the development of new treatment strategies that leverage the regeneration and protective potential of other tissues.


Certain tissues are more protective than others when it comes to skin cancer. A new study in the Journal of Cell Biology led by NYSCF – Robertson Stem Cell Investigator Valentina Greco, PhD, identifies a tissue that can corral in cancerous cells: the hair follicle.

“Hair follicles have a uniquely enhanced ability to contain mutant cells,’’ said Yale’s Cristiana Pineda, lead author of the study, in an article from Yale.

The study involved a mutation on the gene HRAS, which is frequently implicated in a variety of cancer types, including skin cancer. Mice with HRAS mutations introduced into their hair follicles showed resistance to tumor formation. Even when they were faced with advanced age, injury, and secondary mutations, the follicles largely prevented aberrant tumor growth.

How?

While HRAS-mutated cells did multiply and send signals, they also sparked hair follicles to regenerate, which in turn encapsulated the mutant cells, stopping them from growing and spreading.

Regeneration is a powerful tool against skin cancer: it can help suppress tumor formation in the face of challenges such as age, sun exposure, or immune system deficit. Understanding exactly how regeneration in hair follicles protects against cancer will aid in the development of therapies that leverage this potential in other tissues.

Journal Article:

Hair follicle regeneration suppresses Ras-driven oncogenic growth.
Pineda CM, Gonzalez DG, Matte-Martone C, Boucher J, Lathrop E, Gallini S, Fons NR, Xin T, Tai K, Marsh E, Nguyen DX, Suozzi KC, Beronja S, Greco V. Journal of Cell Biology. 2019. doi: 10.1083/jcb.201907178.

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