Hair ‘fine’ fibre is an important commercial product of farmed and certain wild animal species. The fibre is produced in follicles embedded in skin. These have properties in common with other tissues of the integument and have importance in determining yield and quality of fibre. Means of understanding and improving these characteristics are informed by knowledge of integumental and follicle biology. This paper reviews contemporary information that identifies the major fibre-producing species and their production characteristic. It surveys knowledge describing fundamental biology of the integument and considers information derived for the hair follicle from studies on a number of species including genetically modified mice. It identifies the composition of the follicle and describes components and interrelationships between epidermal hair-fibre producing epidermis and fibroblast- and connective tissue-containing dermis. The structure of different primary and secondary follicle types, and associated structures, are described. Focus is given to the alterations in anatomy and in behaviour from active to inactive state, which occurs during the hair follicle cycle. Information is provided on the anatomical substructures (hair medulla, cortex, cuticles and supporting sheaths and dermal papilla), cellular and extracellular composition, and adhesion and chemical signalling systems, which regulate development from the early embryo to post-natal state and subsequent cycling. Such signalling involves the dermis and its specialist fibroblasts, which secrete signalling molecules, which along with those from local epidermis and systemic sources, largely determine structure and function of epidermal cells. Such chemical signalling typically includes endocrine-, paracrine-, autocrine- and juxtacrine-acting molecules and interactions with their receptors located on cell membranes or intracellularly with transduction of message mediated by transcription factors at gene level. Important hormones and growth factors and inhibitors regulating morphogenic and/or mitogenic activity are identified. These mediate mechanisms associated with presence or absence in skin and development of patterning for primary or secondary follicles. Reference is made to deposition of individual keratins and keratin-associated proteins in follicle sub-structures and to fibre properties such as length, diameter, medullation, crimp and lustre. Pre- and post-natal regulation of pigmentation by melanocytes is reviewed. Brief attention is given to genomic and non-genomic variation and impact on the phenotypes expressed and the role of regulatory gene products as potential molecular markers for selection of superior animals. The importance of nutrients in providing substrates for follicular structures and enzymes and in molecules facilitating gene expression is also considered.
- hair follicle
- growth factors