Defining the properties of postnatal stem cells is of interest given their relevance for tissue homeostasis and therapeutic applications, such as skin tissue engineering for burn patients. In hair follicles, the bulge region of the outer root sheath houses stem cells. We show that explants from the prominent bulge area, but not the bulb, in rodent vibrissa follicles can produce epidermis in a skin model of tissue engineering. Using morphological criteria and keratin expression, we typified epithelial stem cells of vibrissa bulge. Two types of slow-cycling cells (Bb, Bs1) featuring a high colony-forming capacity occur in the bulge. Bb cells are located in the outermost basal layer, express K5, K15, K17, and K19, and feature a loosely organized keratin network. Bs1 cells localize to the suprabasal layers proximal to Bb cells and express K5/K17, correlating with a network of densely bundled filaments. These prominent bundles are missing in K17-null mice, which lack vibrissa. Atypically, both the Bb and Bs1 keratinocytes lack K14 expression. These findings show heterogeneity within the hair follicle stem cell repository, establish that a subset of slow-cycling cells are suprabasal in location, and point to a special role for K5/K17 filaments in a newly defined subset of stem cells. Our results are discussed in the context of long-term survival of engineered tissues after grafting that requires the presence of stem cells.
- Intermediate filaments
- Tissue engineering
- Transmission electron microscopy
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Molecular Biology