PLOS ONE, vol.8, 2013 (SCI-Expanded)
beta 1 integrin regulates multiple epithelial cell functions by connecting cells with the extracellular matrix (ECM). While beta 1 integrin-mediated signaling in murine epithelial stem cells is well-studied, its role in human adult epithelial progenitor cells (ePCs) in situ remains to be defined. Using microdissected, organ-cultured human scalp hair follicles (HFs) as a clinically relevant model for studying human ePCs within their natural topobiological habitat, beta 1 integrin-mediated signaling in ePC biology was explored by beta 1 integrin siRNA silencing, specific beta 1 integrin-binding antibodies and pharmacological inhibition of integrin-linked kinase (ILK), a key component of the integrin-induced signaling cascade. beta 1 integrin knock down reduced keratin 15 (K15) expression as well as the proliferation of outer root sheath keratinocytes (ORSKs). Embedding of HF epithelium into an ECM rich in beta 1 integrin ligands that mimic the HF mesenchyme significantly enhanced proliferation and migration of ORSKs, while K15 and CD200 gene and protein expression were inhibited. Employing ECM-embedded beta 1 integrin-activating or -inhibiting antibodies allowed to identify functionally distinct human ePC subpopulations in different compartments of the HF epithelium. The beta 1 integrin-inhibitory antibody reduced beta 1 integrin expression in situ and selectively enhanced proliferation of bulge ePCs, while the beta 1 integrin-stimulating antibody decreased hair matrix keratinocyte apoptosis and enhanced transferrin receptor (CD71) immunoreactivity, a marker of transit amplifying cells, but did not affect bulge ePC proliferation. That the putative ILK inhibitor QLT0267 significantly reduced ORSK migration and proliferation and induced massive ORSK apoptosis suggests a key role for ILK in mediating the beta 1 integrin effects. Taken together, these findings demonstrate that ePCs in human HFs require beta 1 integrin-mediated signaling for survival, adhesion, and migration, and that different human HF ePC subpopulations differ in their response to beta 1 integrin signaling. These insights may be exploited for cell-based regenerative medicine strategies that employ human HF-derived ePCs.