Distinct mechanisms underlie pattern formation in the skin and skin appendages.
Widelitz RB., Baker RE., Plikus M., Lin C-M., Maini PK., Paus R., Chuong CM.
Patterns form with the break of homogeneity and lead to the emergence of new structure or arrangement. There are different physiological and pathological mechanisms that lead to the formation of patterns. Here, we first introduce the basics of pattern formation and their possible biological basis. We then discuss different categories of skin patterns and their potential underlying molecular mechanisms. Some patterns, such as the lines of Blaschko and Naevus, are based on cell lineage and genetic mosaicism. Other patterns, such as regionally specific skin appendages, can be set by distinct combinatorial molecular codes, which in turn may be set by morphogenetic gradients. There are also some patterns, such as the arrangement of hair follicles (hair whorls) and fingerprints, which involve genetics as well as stochastic epigenetic events based on physiochemical principles. Many appendage primordia are laid out in developmental waves. In the adult, some patterns, such as those involving cycling hair follicles, may appear as traveling waves in mice. Since skin appendages can renew themselves in regeneration, their size and shape can still change in the adult via regulation by hormones and the environment. Some lesion patterns are based on pathological changes involving the above processes and can be used as diagnostic criteria in medicine. Understanding the different mechanisms that lead to patterns in the skin will help us appreciate their full significance in morphogenesis and medical research. Much remains to be learned about complex pattern formation, if we are to bridge the gap between molecular biology and organism phenotypes.