The hair follicle bulge in the epidermis associates with the arrector pili muscle (APM) that is responsible for piloerection ("goosebumps"). We show that stem cells in the bulge deposit nephronectin into the underlying basement membrane, thus regulating the adhesion of mesenchymal cells expressing the nephronectin receptor, ?8?1 integrin, to the bulge. Nephronectin induces ?8 integrin-positive mesenchymal cells to upregulate smooth muscle markers. In nephronectin knockout mice, fewer arrector pili muscles form in the skin, and they attach to the follicle above the bulge, where there is compensatory upregulation of the nephronectin family member EGFL6. Deletion of ?8 integrin also abolishes selective APM anchorage to the bulge. Nephronectin is a Wnt target; epidermal ?-catenin activation upregulates epidermal nephronectin and dermal ?8 integrin expression. Thus, bulge stem cells, via nephronectin expression, create a smooth muscle cell niche and act as tendon cells for the APM. Our results reveal a functional role for basement membrane heterogeneity in tissue patterning. ? 2011 Elsevier Inc.
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