The feather is a complex ectodermal organ with hierarchical branching patterns. It provides functions in endothermy, communication, and flight. Studies of feather growth, cycling, and health are of fundamental importance to avian biology and poultry science. In addition, feathers are an excellent model for morphogenesis studies because of their accessibility, and their distinct patterns can be used to assay the roles of specific molecular pathways. Here we review the progress in aspects of development, regeneration, and evolution during the past three decades. We cover the development of feather buds in chicken embryos, regenerative cycling of feather follicle stem cells, formation of barb branching patterns, emergence of intrafeather pigmentation patterns, interplay of hormones and feather growth, and the genetic identification of several feather variants. The discovery of feathered dinosaurs redefines the relationship between feathers and birds. Inspiration from biomaterials and flight research further fuels biomimetic potential of feathers as a multidisciplinary research focal point. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Animal Biosciences Volume 3 is February 15, 2015. Please see http://www.annualreviews.org/catalog/pubdates.aspx for revised estimates.
Ectodermal appendages such as feathers, hair, mammary glands, salivary glands, and sweat glands form branches, allowing much-increased surface for functional differentiation and secretion. Here, the principles of branching morphogenesis are exemplified by the mammary gland and feathers.
Feathers are hallmark avian integument appendages, although they were also present on theropods. They are composed of flexible corneous materials made of ?- and ?-keratins, but their genomic organization and their functional roles in feathers have not been well studied. First, we made an exhaustive search of ?- and ?-keratin genes in the new chicken genome assembly (Galgal4). Then, using transcriptomic analysis, we studied ?- and ?-keratin gene expression patterns in five types of feather epidermis. The expression patterns of ?-keratin genes were different in different feather types, whereas those of ?-keratin genes were less variable. In addition, we obtained extensive ?- and ?-keratin mRNA in situ hybridization data, showing that ?-keratins and ?-keratins are preferentially expressed in different parts of the feather components. Together, our data suggest that feather morphological and structural diversity can largely be attributed to differential combinations of ?- and ?-keratin genes in different intrafeather regions and/or feather types from different body parts. The expression profiles provide new insights into the evolutionary origin and diversification of feathers. Finally, functional analysis using mutant chicken keratin forms based on those found in the human ?-keratin mutation database led to abnormal phenotypes. This demonstrates that the chicken can be a convenient model for studying the molecular biology of human keratin-based diseases.
Hair follicles have characteristic sizes corresponding to their cycle-specific stage. However, how the anagen hair follicle specifies its size remains elusive. Here, we showed that in response to prolonged ectopic Wnt10b-mediated ?-catenin activation, regenerating anagen hair follicles grew larger in size. In particular, the hair bulb, dermal papilla and hair shaft became enlarged, while the formation of different hair types (Guard, Awl, Auchene and Zigzag) was unaffected. Interestingly, we found that the effect of exogenous WNT10b was mainly on Zigzag and less on the other kinds of hairs. We observed dramatically enhanced proliferation within the matrix, DP and hair shaft of the enlarged AdWnt10b-treated hair follicles compared with those of normal hair follicles at P98. Furthermore, expression of CD34, a specific hair stem cell marker, was increased in its number to the bulge region after AdWnt10b treatment. Ectopic expression of CD34 throughout the ORS region was also observed. Many CD34-positive hair stem cells were actively proliferating in AdWnt10b-induced hair follicles. Importantly, subsequent co-treatment with the Wnt inhibitor, DKK1, reduced hair follicle enlargement and decreased proliferation and ectopic localization of hair stem cells. Moreover, injection of DKK1 during early anagen significantly reduced the width of prospective hairs. Together, these findings strongly suggest that Wnt10b/DKK1 can modulate hair follicle size during hair regeneration.
Hair cycling is modulated by factors both intrinsic and extrinsic to hair follicles. Cycling defects lead to conditions such as aging-associated alopecia. Recently, we demonstrated that mouse skin exhibits regenerative hair waves, reflecting a coordinated regenerative behavior in follicle populations. Here, we use this model to explore the regenerative behavior of aging mouse skin. Old mice (>18 months) tracked over several months show that with progressing age, hair waves slow down, wave propagation becomes restricted, and hair cycle domains fragment into smaller domains. Transplanting aged donor mouse skin to a young host can restore donor cycling within a 3?mm range of the interface, suggesting that changes are due to extracellular factors. Therefore, hair stem cells in aged skin can be reactivated. Molecular studies show that extra-follicular modulators Bmp2, Dkk1, and Sfrp4 increase in early anagen. Further, we identify follistatin as an extra-follicular modulator, which is highly expressed in late telogen and early anagen. Indeed, follistatin induces hair wave propagation and its level decreases in aging mice. We present an excitable medium model to simulate the cycling behavior in aging mice and illustrate how the interorgan macroenvironment can regulate the aging process by integrating both "activator" and "inhibitor" signals.
Avian feathers have robust growth and regeneration capability. To evaluate the contribution of signaling molecules and pathways in these processes, we profiled gene expression in the feather follicle using an absolute quantification approach. We identified hundreds of genes that mark specific components of the feather follicle: the dermal papillae (DP) which controls feather regeneration and axis formation, the pulp mesenchyme (Pp) which is derived from DP cells and nourishes the feather follicle, and the ramogenic zone epithelium (Erz) where a feather starts to branch. The feather DP is enriched in BMP/TGF-? signaling molecules and inhibitors for Wnt signaling including Dkk2/Frzb. Wnt ligands are mainly expressed in the feather epithelium and pulp. We find that while Wnt signaling is required for the maintenance of DP marker gene expression and feather regeneration, excessive Wnt signaling delays regeneration and reduces pulp formation. Manipulating Dkk2/Frzb expression by lentiviral-mediated overexpression, shRNA-knockdown, or by antibody neutralization resulted in dual feather axes formation. Our results suggest that the Wnt signaling in the proximal feather follicle is fine-tuned to accommodate feather regeneration and axis formation.
Reptiles and fish have robust regenerative powers for tooth renewal. However, extant mammals can either renew their teeth one time (diphyodont dentition) or not at all (monophyodont dentition). Humans replace their milk teeth with permanent teeth and then lose their ability for tooth renewal. Here, we study tooth renewal in a crocodilian model, the American alligator, which has well-organized teeth similar to mammals but can still undergo life-long renewal. Each alligator tooth is a complex family unit composed of the functional tooth, successional tooth, and dental lamina. Using multiple mitotic labeling, we map putative stem cells to the distal enlarged bulge of the dental lamina that contains quiescent odontogenic progenitors that can be activated during physiological exfoliation or artificial extraction. Tooth cycle initiation correlates with ?-catenin activation and soluble frizzled-related protein 1 disappearance in the bulge. The dermal niche adjacent to the dermal lamina dynamically expresses neural cell adhesion molecule, tenascin-C, and other molecules. Furthermore, in development, asymmetric ?-catenin localization leads to the formation of a heterochronous and complex tooth family unit configuration. Understanding how these signaling molecules interact in tooth development in this model may help us to learn how to stimulate growth of adult teeth in mammals.
Histone deacetylases (HDACs) are present in the epidermal layer of the skin, outer root sheath, and hair matrix. To investigate how histone acetylation affects skin morphogenesis and homeostasis, mice were generated with a K14 promoter-mediated reduction of Hdac1 or Hdac2. The skin of HDAC1 null (K14-Cre Hdac1(cKO/cKO)) mice exhibited a spectrum of lesions, including irregularly thickened interfollicular epidermis, alopecia, hair follicle dystrophy, claw dystrophy, and abnormal pigmentation. Hairs are sparse, short, and intermittently coiled. The distinct pelage hair types are lost. During the first hair cycle, hairs are lost and replaced by dystrophic hair follicles with dilated infundibulae. The dystrophic hair follicle epithelium is stratified and is positive for K14, involucrin, and TRP63, but negative for keratin 10. Some dystrophic follicles are K15 positive, but mature hair fiber keratins are absent. The digits form extra hyperpigmented claws on the lateral sides. Hyperpigmentation is observed in the interfollicular epithelium, the tail, and the feet. Hdac1 and Hdac2 dual transgenic mice (K14-Cre Hdac1(cKO/cKO) Hdac2(+/cKO)) have similar but more obvious abnormalities. These results show that suppression of epidermal HDAC activity leads to improper ectodermal organ morphogenesis and disrupted hair follicle regeneration and homeostasis, as well as indirect effects on pigmentation.
How organs are shaped to specific forms is a fundamental issue in developmental biology. To address this question, we used the repetitive, periodic pattern of feather morphogenesis on chicken skin as a model. Avian feathers within a single tract extend from dome-shaped primordia to thin conical structures with a common axis of orientation. From a systems biology perspective, the process is precise and robust. Using tissue transplantation assays, we demonstrate that a "zone of polarizing activity," localized in the posterior feather bud, is necessary and sufficient to mediate the directional elongation. This region contains a spatially well-defined nuclear ?-catenin zone, which is induced by wingless-int (Wnt)7a protein diffusing in from posterior bud epithelium. Misexpressing nuclear ?-catenin randomizes feather polarity. This dermal nuclear ?-catenin zone, surrounded by Notch1 positive dermal cells, induces Jagged1. Inhibition of Notch signaling disrupts the spatial configuration of the nuclear ?-catenin zone and leads to randomized feather polarity. Mathematical modeling predicts that lateral inhibition, mediated by Notch signaling, functions to reduce Wnt7a gradient variations and fluctuations to form the sharp boundary observed for the dermal ?-catenin zone. This zone is also enriched for nonmuscle myosin IIB. Suppressing nonmuscle myosin IIB disrupts directional cell rearrangements and abolishes feather bud elongation. These data suggest that a unique molecular module involving chemical-mechanical coupling converts a pliable chemical gradient to a precise domain, ready for subsequent mechanical action, thus defining the position, boundary, and duration of localized morphogenetic activity that molds the shape of growing organs.
Patterns describe order which emerges from homogeneity. Complex patterns on the integument are striking because of their visibility throughout an organism’s lifespan. Periodic patterning is an effective design because the ensemble of hair or feather follicles (modules) allows the generation of complexity, including regional variations and cyclic regeneration, giving the skin appendages a new lease on life. Spatial patterns include the arrangements of feathers and hairs in specific number, size, and spacing.We explorehowa field of equivalent progenitor cells can generate periodically arranged modules based on genetic information, physical–chemical rules and developmental timing. Reconstitution experiments suggest a competitive equilibrium regulated by activators/inhibitors involving Turing reaction-diffusion. Temporal patterns result from oscillating stem cell activities within each module (microenvironment regulation), reflected as growth (anagen) and resting (telogen) phases during the cycling of feather and hair follicles. Stimulating modules with activators initiates the spread of regenerative hair waves, while global inhibitors outside each module (macroenvironment) prevent this. Different wave patterns can be simulated by cellular automata principles. Hormonal status and seasonal changes can modulate appendage phenotypes, leading to ‘organ metamorphosis’, with multiple ectodermal organ phenotypes generated from the same precursors. We discuss potential novel evolutionary steps using this module-based complexity in several amniote integument organs, exemplified by the spectacular peacock feather pattern. We thus explore the application of the acquired knowledge of patterning in tissue engineering. New hair follicles can be generated after wounding. Hairs and feathers can be reconstituted through self-organization of dissociated progenitor cells.
Activation of ?-catenin was shown to be of central importance for hair development and cycling. Recent progress brought more understanding to how Wnt signaling is regulated during hair follicle generation and regeneration, telogen-anagen reentry, and extra-follicular macro-environmental modulation. This new understanding presents multiple possibilities to fine tune Wnt signaling for desired hair growth.
There are major new advancements in the fields of stem cell biology, developmental biology, regenerative hair cycling, and tissue engineering. The time is ripe to integrate, translate, and apply these findings to tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. Readers will learn about new progress in cellular and molecular aspects of hair follicle development, regeneration, and potential therapeutic opportunities these advances may offer.
Hair follicles facilitate the study of stem cell behavior because stem cells in progressive activation stages, ordered within the follicle architecture, are capable of cyclic regeneration. To study the gene network governing the homeostasis of hair bulge stem cells, we developed a Keratin 15-driven genetic model to directly perturb molecular signaling in the stem cells. We visualize the behavior of these modified stem cells, evaluating their hair-regenerating ability and profile their molecular expression. Bone morphogenetic protein (BMP)-inactivated stem cells exhibit molecular profiles resembling those of hair germs, yet still possess multipotentiality in vivo. These cells also exhibit up-regulation of Wnt7a, Wnt7b, and Wnt16 ligands and Frizzled (Fzd) 10 receptor. We demonstrate direct transcriptional modulation of the Wnt7a promoter. These results highlight a previously unknown intra-stem cell antagonistic competition, between BMP and Wnt signaling, to balance stem cell activity. Reduced BMP signaling and increased Wnt signaling tilts each stem cell toward a hair germ fate and, vice versa, based on a continuous scale dependent on the ratio of BMP/Wnt activity. This work reveals one more hierarchical layer regulating stem cell homeostasis beneath the stem cell-dermal papilla-based epithelial-mesenchymal interaction layer and the hair follicle-intradermal adipocyte-based tissue interaction layer. Although hierarchical layers are all based on BMP/Wnt signaling, the multilayered control ensures that all information is taken into consideration and allows hair stem cells to sum up the total activators/inhibitors involved in making the decision of activation.
Stem cells cycle through active and quiescent states. Large populations of stem cells in an organ may cycle randomly or in a coordinated manner. Although stem cell cycling within single hair follicles has been studied, less is known about regenerative behavior in a hair follicle population. By combining predictive mathematical modeling with in vivo studies in mice and rabbits, we show that a follicle progresses through cycling stages by continuous integration of inputs from intrinsic follicular and extrinsic environmental signals based on universal patterning principles. Signaling from the WNT/bone morphogenetic protein activator/inhibitor pair is coopted to mediate interactions among follicles in the population. This regenerative strategy is robust and versatile because relative activator/inhibitor strengths can be modulated easily, adapting the organism to different physiological and evolutionary needs.
The mythological story of the Golden Fleece symbolizes the magical regenerative power of skin appendages. Similar to the adventurous pursuit of the Golden Fleece by the multi-talented Argonauts, today we also need an integrated multi-disciplined approach to understand the cellular and molecular processes during development, regeneration and evolution of skin appendages. To this end, we have explored several aspects of skin appendage biology that contribute to the Turing activator/inhibitor model in feather pattern formation, the topo-biological arrangement of stem cells in organ shape determination, the macro-environmental regulation of stem cells in regenerative hair waves, and potential novel molecular pathways in the morphological evolution of feathers. Here we show our current integrative biology efforts to unravel the complex cellular behavior in patterning stem cells and the control of regional specificity in skin appendages. We use feather/scale tissue recombination to demonstrate the timing control of competence and inducibility. Feathers from different body regions are used to study skin regional specificity. Bioinformatic analyses of transcriptome microarrays show the potential involvement of candidate molecular pathways. We further show Hox genes exhibit some region specific expression patterns. To visualize real time events, we applied time-lapse movies, confocal microscopy and multiphoton microscopy to analyze the morphogenesis of cultured embryonic chicken skin explants. These modern imaging technologies reveal unexpectedly complex cellular flow and organization of extracellular matrix molecules in three dimensions. While these approaches are in preliminary stages, this perspective highlights the challenges we face and new integrative tools we will use. Future work will follow these leads to develop a systems biology view and understanding in the morphogenetic principles that govern the development and regeneration of ectodermal organs.
Organogenesis involves a series of dynamic morphogenesis and remodeling processes. Since feathers exhibit complex forms, we have been using the feather as a model to analyze how molecular pathways and cellular events are used. While several major molecular pathways have been studied, the roles of matrix degrading proteases and inhibitors in feather morphogenesis are unknown. Here we addressed this knowledge gap by studying the temporal and spatial expression of proteases and inhibitors in developing feathers using mammalian antibodies that cross react with chicken proteins. We also investigated the effect of protease inhibitors on feather development employing an in vitro feather bud culture system. The results show that antibodies specific for mammalian MMP2 and TIMP2 stained positive in both feather epithelium and mesenchyme. The staining co-localized in structures of E10-E13 developing feathers. Interestingly, MMP2 and TIMP2 exhibited a complementary staining pattern in developing E15 and E20 feathers and in maturing feather filaments. Although they exhibited a slight delay in feather bud development, similar patterns of MMP2 and TIMP2 staining were observed in in vitro culture explants. The broad spectrum pharmacological inhibitors AG3340 and BB103 (MMP inhibitors) but not Aprotinin (a plasmin inhibitor) showed a reversible effect on epithelium invagination and feather bud elongation. TIMP2, a physiological inhibitor to MMPs, exhibited a similar effect. Markers of feather morphogenesis showed that MMP activity was required for both epithelium invagination and mesenchymal cell proliferation. Inhibition of MMP activity led to an overall delay in the expression of molecules that regulate either early feather bud growth and/or differentiation and thereby produced abnormal buds with incomplete follicle formation. This work demonstrates that MMPs and their inhibitors are not only important in injury repair, but also in development tissue remodeling as demonstrated here for the formation of feather follicles.
A key issue in stem cell biology is the differentiation of homogeneous stem cells towards different fates which are also organized into desired configurations. Little is known about the mechanisms underlying the process of periodic patterning. Feather explants offer a fundamental and testable model in which multi-potential cells are organized into hexagonally arranged primordia and the spacing between primordia. Previous work explored roles of a Turing reaction-diffusion mechanism in establishing chemical patterns. Here we show that a continuum of feather patterns, ranging from stripes to spots, can be obtained when the level of p-ERK activity is adjusted with chemical inhibitors. The patterns are dose-dependent, tissue stage-dependent, and irreversible. Analyses show that ERK activity-dependent mesenchymal cell chemotaxis is essential for converting micro-signaling centers into stable feather primordia. A mathematical model based on short-range activation, long-range inhibition, and cell chemotaxis is developed and shown to simulate observed experimental results. This generic cell behavior model can be applied to model stem cell patterning behavior at large.
The control of hair growth in the adult mammalian coat is a fascinating topic which has just begun to be explored with molecular genetic tools. Complex hair cycle domains and regenerative hair waves are present in normal adult (> 2 month) mice, but more apparent in mutants with cyclic alopecia phenotypes. Each hair cycle domain consists of initiation site(s), a propagating wave and boundaries. By analyzing the dynamics of hair growth, time required for regeneration after plucking, in situ hybridization and reporter activity, we showed that there is oscillation of intra-follicular Wnt signaling which is synchronous with hair cycling, and there is oscillation of dermal bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) signaling which is asynchronous with hair cycling. The interactions of these two rhythms lead to the recognition of refractory and competent phases in the telogen, and autonomous and propagating phases in the anagen. Boundaries form when propagating anagen waves reach follicles which are in refractory telogen. Experiments showed that Krt14-Nog mice have shortened refractory telogen and simplified wave dynamics. Krt14-Nog skin grafts exhibit non-autonomous interactions with surrounding host skin. Implantation of BMP coated beads into competent telogen skin prevents hair wave propagation around the bead. Thus, we have developed a new molecular understanding of the classic early concepts of inhibitory "chalone", suggesting that stem cells within the hair follicle micro-environment, or other organs, are subject to a higher level of macro-environmental regulation. Such a novel understanding has important implications in the field of regenerative medicine. The unexpected links with Bmp2 expression in subcutaneous adipocytes has implications for systems biology and Evo-Devo.
In this issue of Cell Stem Cell, Greco et al. (2009) characterize the hair germ as a novel stop between bulge stem cell and transient amplifying cells during hair regeneration. The work implies stem cell states can be regulated to form different numbers of intermediate stops, depending on physiological requirements.
The ephrin receptor (Eph) tyrosine kinases and their ephrin ligands are involved in morphogenesis during organ formation. We studied their role in feather morphogenesis, focusing on ephrin-B1 and its receptor EphB3. Early in feather development, ephrin-B1 mRNA and protein were found to be expressed in the dermal condensation, but not in the inter-bud mesenchyme. Later, in feather buds, expression was found in both the epithelium and mesenchyme. In the feather follicle, ephrin-B1 protein expression was found to be enriched in the feather filament epithelium and in the marginal plate which sets the boundary between the barb ridges. EphB3 mRNA was also expressed in epithelia. In the feather bud, its expression was restricted to the posterior bud. In the follicle, its expression formed a circle at the bud base which may set the boundary between bud and inter-bud domains. Perturbation with ephrin-B1/Fc altered feather primordia segregation and feather bud elongation. Analyses revealed that ephrin-B1/Fc caused three types of changes: blurred placode boundaries with loose dermal condensations, incomplete follicle invagination with less compact dermal papillae, and aberrant barb ridge patterning in feather filament morphogenesis. Thus, while ephrin-B1 suppression does not inhibit the initial emergence of a new epithelial domain, Eph/ephrin-B1 interaction is required for its proper completion. Consequently, we propose that interaction between ephrin-B1 and its receptor is involved in boundary stabilization during feather morphogenesis.
In a feather, there are distinct morphologies along the proximal-distal axis. The proximal part is a cylindrical stalk (calamus), whereas the distal part has barb and barbule branches. Here we focus on what molecular signaling activity can modulate feather stem cells to generate these distinct morphologies. We demonstrate the drastic tissue remodeling during feather cycling which includes initiation, growth and resting phases. In the growth phase, epithelial components undergo progressive changes from the collar growth zone to the ramogenic zone, to maturing barb branches along the proximal-distal axis. Mesenchymal components also undergo progressive changes from the dermal papilla, to the collar mesenchyme, to the pulp along the proximal-distal axis. Over-expression of Spry4, a negative regulator of receptor tyrosine kinases, promotes barb branch formation at the expense of the epidermal collar. It even induces barb branches from the follicle sheath (equivalent to the outer root sheath in hair follicles). The results are feathers with expanded feather vane regions and small or missing proximal feather shafts (the calamus). Spry4 also expands the pulp region while reducing the size of dermal papillae, leading to a failure to regenerate. In contrast, over-expressing Fgf10 increases the size of the dermal papillae, expands collar epithelia and mesenchyme, but also prevents feather branch formation and feather keratin differentiation. These results suggest that coordinated Sprouty/FGF pathway activity at different stages is important to modulate feather epidermal stem cells to form distinct feather morphologies along the proximal-distal feather axis.
Feathers have complex forms and are an excellent model to study the development and evolution of morphologies. Existing chicken feather mutants are especially useful for identifying genetic determinants of feather formation. This study focused on the gene F, underlying the frizzle feather trait that has a characteristic curled feather rachis and barbs in domestic chickens. Our developmental biology studies identified defects in feather medulla formation, and physical studies revealed that the frizzle feather curls in a stepwise manner. The frizzle gene is transmitted in an autosomal incomplete dominant mode. A whole-genome linkage scan of five pedigrees with 2678 SNPs revealed association of the frizzle locus with a keratin gene-enriched region within the linkage group E22C19W28_E50C23. Sequence analyses of the keratin gene cluster identified a 69 bp in-frame deletion in a conserved region of KRT75, an ?-keratin gene. Retroviral-mediated expression of the mutated F cDNA in the wild-type rectrix qualitatively changed the bending of the rachis with some features of frizzle feathers including irregular kinks, severe bending near their distal ends, and substantially higher variations among samples in comparison to normal feathers. These results confirmed KRT75 as the F gene. This study demonstrates the potential of our approach for identifying genetic determinants of feather forms.
To examine the roles of epigenetic modulation on hair follicle regeneration, we generated mice with a K14-Cre-mediated loss of DNA methyltransferase 1 (DNMT1). The mutant shows an uneven epidermal thickness and alterations in hair follicle size. When formed, hair follicle architecture and differentiation appear normal. Hair subtypes exist but hair fibers are shorter and thinner. Hair numbers appear normal at birth but gradually decrease to <50% of control in 1-year-old mice. Sections of old mutant skin show follicles in prolonged telogen with hyperplastic sebaceous glands. Anagen follicles in mutants exhibit decreased proliferation and increased apoptosis in matrix transient-amplifying cells. Although K15-positive stem cells in the mutant bulge are comparable in number to the control, their ability to proliferate and become activated to form a hair germ is reduced. As mice age, residual DNMT activity declines further, and the probability of successful anagen reentry decreases, leading to progressive alopecia. Paradoxically, there is increased proliferation in the epidermis, which also shows aberrant differentiation. These results highlight the importance of DNA methylation in maintaining stem cell homeostasis during the development and regeneration of ectodermal organs.
The concept of regenerative medicine is relatively new, but animals are well known to remake their hair and feathers regularly by normal regenerative physiological processes. Here, we focus on 1) how extrafollicular environments can regulate hair and feather stem cell activities and 2) how different configurations of stem cells can shape organ forms in different body regions to fulfill changing physiological needs.
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