A possible role for Langerhans cells in the removal of melanin from early catagen hair follicles


Dr Desmond J.Tobin E-mail: dtobin@bradford.ac.uk


Hair pigmentation is coupled to the hair follicle growth cycle. A common feature of catagen is the translocation of melanin from the matrix to the dermal papilla of the hair follicle. However, the mechanism whereby this pigment, not incorporated into the hair shaft, is removed from the hair bulb during early catagen is poorly understood. Routine ultrastructural examination of four normal scalp specimens revealed a rare hair follicle in early catagen. Close study of the hair bulb of this catagen follicle revealed a Langerhans cell in the process of transferring pigment from the matrix to the dermal papilla. This cell also contained numerous characteristic Langerhans granules (LG) (also known as Birbeck granules). Interestingly, these granules were intimately associated with melanosomes: so intimate, in fact, that melanosomes appeared to have been endocytosed by LG. This unique demonstration of removal of hair follicle melanin by Langerhans cells during early catagen and of pigment uptake by Langerhans cells by endocytosis into LG, suggests one way by which ‘unused’ pigment can be removed from the hair follicle during catagen.