We have previously reported that nestin-expressing hair follicle stem cells can differentiate into neurons, Schwann cells, and other cell types. In the present study, vibrissa hair follicles, including their sensory nerve stump, were excised from transgenic mice in which the nestin promoter drives green fluorescent protein (ND-GFP mice), and were placed in 3D histoculture supported by Gelfoam®. β-III tubulin-positive fibers, consisting of ND-GFP-expressing cells, extended up to 500 µm from the whisker nerve stump in histoculture. The growing fibers had growth cones on their tips expressing F-actin. These findings indicate that β-III tubulin-positive fibers elongating from the whisker follicle sensory nerve stump were growing axons. The growing whisker sensory nerve was highly enriched in ND-GFP cells which appeared to play a major role in its elongation and interaction with other nerves in 3D culture, including the sciatic nerve, the trigeminal nerve, and the trigeminal nerve ganglion. The results of the present report suggest a major function of the nestin-expressing stem cells in the hair follicle is for growth of the follicle sensory nerve. J. Cell. Biochem. 114: 1674–1684, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
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