SOX9: A stem cell transcriptional regulator of secreted niche signaling factors

Meelis Kadaja, Brice E. Keyes, Mingyan Lin, H. Amalia Pasolli, Maria Genander, Lisa Polak, Nicole Stokes, Deyou Zheng, Elaine Fuchs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

155 Scopus citations


Hair follicles (HFs) undergo cyclical periods of growth, which are fueled by stem cells (SCs) at the base of the resting follicle. HF-SC formation occurs during HF development and requires transcription factor SOX9. Whether and how SOX9 functions in HF-SC maintenance remain unknown. By conditionally targeting Sox9 in adult HF-SCs, we show that SOX9 is essential for maintaining them. SOX9-deficient HF-SCs still transition from quiescence to proliferation and launch the subsequent hair cycle. However, once activated, bulge HF-SCs begin to differentiate into epidermal cells, which naturally lack SOX9. In addition, as HF-SC numbers dwindle, outer root sheath production is not sustained, and HF downgrowth arrests prematurely. Probing the mechanism, we used RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) to identify SOX9-dependent transcriptional changes and chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) and deep sequencing (ChIP-seq) to identify SOX9-bound genes in HF-SCs. Intriguingly, a large cohort of SOX9-sensitive targets encode extracellular factors, most notably enhancers of Activin/pSMAD2 signaling. Moreover, compromising Activin signaling recapitulates SOX9-dependent defects, and Activin partially rescues them. Overall, our findings reveal roles for SOX9 in regulating adult HF-SC maintenance and suppressing epidermal differentiation in the niche. In addition, our studies expose a role for SCs in coordinating their own behavior in part through non-cell-autonomous signaling within the niche.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)328-341
Number of pages14
JournalGenes and Development
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 15 2014


  • Activin
  • Hair follicle
  • SOX9
  • Skin
  • Stem cells

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Developmental Biology


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