The goal of my project is to understand how the Wnt receptor Frizzled 2 (Fzd2) regulates stem cell populations within mouse hair follicles. The canonical Wnt pathway (the best understood Wnt pathway) is a signaling cascade that is highly conserved in multicellular organisms and active in many tissues in mammals. When the this pathway is inhibited in the skin, hair follicles degenerate and sebaceous (skin oil) glands enlarge. To understand which cells were mediating these opposing effects, I deleted the Fzd2 gene in stem cell pools that contribute to the hair follicle or sebaceous gland.
In the mice we studied, the loss of Fzd2 in a single hair follicle stem cell population actually promotes HF growth. Reconciling this observation with what we have seen in other mouse models will be a focus of my research next semester. No obvious effect was seen after deletion in the sebaceous gland stem cell pool we used, but we are going to delete in a different population that contributes to this organ.
I have learned many technical skills in my lab courses, but putting these skills to practical use in a lab setting has been an invaluable experience. I further developed my ability to carry out mechanical tasks like dissections, but my project also required maintaining several different mouse lines and designing experiments. These more higher-level skills cannot be learned by following a protocol, and may be more widely applicable in the future than purely technical ones. For instance, this past summer, I not only practiced preparing slides for analysis, but also learned how to interpret the images we produced. I believe that this research project has been invaluable to my development as an aspiring scientist.