We describe a novel murine progenitor cell population localised to a previously uncharacterised region between sebaceous glands and the hair follicle bulge, defined by its reactivity to the thymic epithelial progenitor cell marker MTS24. MTS24 labels a membrane-bound antigen present during the early stages of hair follicle development and in adult mice. MTS24 co-localises with expression of α6-integrin and keratin 14, indicating that these cells include basal keratinocytes. This novel population does not express the bulge-specific stem cell markers CD34 or keratin 15, and is infrequently BrdU label retaining. MTS24-positive and -negative keratinocyte populations were isolated by flow cytometry and assessed for colony-forming efficiency. MTS24-positive keratinocytes exhibited a two-fold increase in colony formation and colony size compared to MTS24-negative basal keratinocytes. In addition, both the MTS24-positive and CD34-positive subpopulations were capable of producing secondary colonies after serial passage of individual cell clones. Finally, gene expression profiles of MTS24 and CD34 subpopulations were compared. These results showed that the overall gene expression profile of MTS24-positive cells resembles the pattern previously reported in bulge stem cells. Taken together, these data suggest that the cell-surface marker MTS24 identifies a new reservoir of hair follicle keratinocytes with a proliferative capacity and gene expression profile suggestive of progenitor or stem cells.
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