The formation of hair follicles, a landmark of mammals, requires complex mesenchymal-epithelial interactions and it is commonly believed that embryonic epidermal cells are the only cells that can respond to hair follicle morphogenetic signals in vivo. Here, we demonstrate that epithelial stem cells of non-skin origin (e.g. that of cornea, oesophagus, vagina, bladder, prostate) that express the transcription factor Tp63, a master gene for the development of epidermis and its appendages, can respond to skin morphogenetic signals. When exposed to a newborn skin microenvironment, these cells express hair-follicle lineage markers and contribute to hair follicles, sebaceous glands and/or epidermis renewal. Our results demonstrate that lineage restriction is not immutable and support the notion that all Tp63-expressing epithelial stem cells, independently of their embryonic origin, have latent skin competence explaining why aberrant hair follicles or sebaceous glands are sometimes observed in non-skin tissues (e.g. in cornea, vagina or thymus).
- epithelial stem cells cross lineages boundaries
- hairy skin
- hair follicles
- embryonic epidermal cells