The cycling hair follicle as an ideal systems biology research model

Yusur Al-Nuaimi, Gerold Baier, Rachel E.B. Watson, Cheng Ming Chuong, Ralf Paus*

*Corresponding author for this work
39 Citations (Scopus)


In the postgenomic era, systems biology has rapidly emerged as an exciting field predicted to enhance the molecular understanding of complex biological systems by the use of quantitative experimental and mathematical approaches. Systems biology studies how the components of a biological system (e.g. genes, transcripts, proteins, metabolites) interact to bring about defined biological function or dysfunction. Living systems may be divided into five dimensions of complexity: (i) molecular; (ii) structural; (iii) temporal; (iv) abstraction and emergence; and (v) algorithmic. Understanding the details of these dimensions in living systems is the challenge that systems biology aims to address. Here, we argue that the hair follicle (HF), one of the signature features of mammals, is a perfect and clinically relevant model for systems biology research. The HF represents a stem cell-rich, essentially autonomous mini-organ, whose cyclic transformations follow a hypothetical intrafollicular " hair cycle clock" (HCC). This prototypic neuroectodermal-mesodermal interaction system, at the cross-roads of systems and chronobiology, encompasses various levels of complexity as it is subject to both intrafollicular and extrafollicular inputs (e.g. intracutaneous timing mechanisms with neural and systemic stimuli). Exploring how the cycling HF addresses the five dimensions of living systems, we argue that a systems biology approach to the study of hair growth and cycling, in man and mice, has great translational medicine potential. Namely, the easily accessible human HF invites preclinical and clinical testing of novel hypotheses generated with this approach.

Original languageEnglish
JournalExperimental Dermatology
Issue number8
Pages (from-to)707-713
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - 01.08.2010


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