Bacteria communicate among themselves. A chemical system called 'quorum sensing' allows those single-celled bugs to tell when their numbers have multiplied enough to mount an effective attack or emit glowing light.
The team of scientists who learned about this brainless bacterial coordination some 20 years ago has uncovered new evidence indicating animal cells may speak the same lingo.
Their findings were revealed through an unexpected approach: plucking hairs. When a researcher at the University of Southern California and his colleagues plucked 200 hairs from mice in a specific pattern in a confined area, ensuring that many neighboring hairs were pulled, more than 1,000 hairs grew back in their place, including some beyond the plucked region. The results were published April 9 in the journal Cell.
The study begged the question: Why don't the same number of plucked hairs grow back to replace their fallen kin? It appears that hundreds of affected hair follicles released chemical signals relaying distress. Then, once enough neighboring cells sent out similar chemical flares, sensors on the skin detected the messages and took collective action: Incredibly, those messages induced the regeneration of as much as five times the amount of replacement hair.
If 'quorum sensing' was behind this action, as the research suggests, it would represent some of the first proof to date that this phenomenon doesn't just occur in bacteria cells but also animals cells.
“It’s a pretty new field, but if cells can signal to bacteria in the gut, as research has shown, you would think they could signal amongst themselves as well,” so these findings make sense, says Julia van Kessel, an assistant research scientist at Indiana University Bloomington.
Just don't go thinking the hair plucking reaction means that if you start to go bald, plucking a few surrounding hairs will trigger a massive resurgence or that irritating the scalp will be the key to luscious locks, according to lead author Cheng-Ming Chuong, a professor of pathology at USC.
To combat male pattern baldness, which is triggered by genes and hormones and involves changes in the hair follicles themselves, much more study would need to take place before researchers can understand how or even if these findings can be translated into a treatment.
Still, something was clearly occurring beyond individual hair regeneration, Chuong says. This should give hope to all the follicle challenged men out there.