- Crimp, a distinguishing feature of sheep fibres, significantly affects wool value, processing and final fabric attributes. Several explanations for fibre bending have been proposed. Most concentrate on relative differences in the physicochemical properties of the cortical cells, which comprise the bulk of the fibre. However, the associations between cortical properties and fibre crimp are not consistent and may not reflect the underlying causation of fibre curvature (FC). We have formulated a mechanistic model in which fibre shape is dictated primarily by the degree of asymmetry in cell supply from the follicle bulb, and the point at which keratinisation is completed within the follicle. If this hypothesis is correct, one would anticipate that most variations in fibre crimp would be accounted for by quantitative differences in both the degree of mitotic asymmetry in follicle bulbs and the distance from the bulb to the point at which keratinisation is completed. To test this hypothesis, we took skin biopsies from Merino sheep from sites producing wool differing widely in fibre crimp frequency and FC. Mitotic asymmetry in follicle bulbs was measured using a DNA-labelling technique and the site of final keratinisation was defined by picric acid staining of the fibre. The proportion of para- to ortho-cortical cell area was determined in the cross-sections of fibres within biopsy samples. Mitotic asymmetry in the follicle bulb accounted for 0.64 (P < 0.0001) of the total variance in objectively measured FC, while the point of final keratinisation of the fibre accounted for an additional 0.05 (P < 0.05) of the variance. There was no association between ortho- to para-cortical cell ratio and FC. FC was positively associated with a subjective follicle curvature score (P < 0.01). We conclude that fibre crimp is caused predominantly by asymmetric cell division in follicles that are highly curved. Differential pressures exerted by the subsequent asymmetric cell supply and cell hardening in the lower follicle cause fibre bending. The extent of bending is then modulated by the point at which keratinisation is completed; later hardening means the fibre remains pliable for longer, thereby reducing the pressure differential and reducing fibre bending. This means that even highly asymmetric follicles may produce a straight fibre if keratinisation is sufficiently delayed, as is the case in deficiencies of zinc and copper, or when keratinisation is perturbed by transgenesis. The model presented here can account for the many variations in fibre shape found in mammals.
- The cortex of a crimped Merino wool fibre comprises two hemi-cylinders, which differ in both chemical and physical properties. The form of the crimp wave is related to alternations in the positions of the two cortical components within the fibre—the ortho- and the para-cortex1–4. The ortho-cortex tends to lie on the convex aspect of the crimp wave and the para-cortex on the concave aspect.
- Hair curvature underpins structural diversity and function in mammalian coats, but what causes curl in keratin hair fibres? To obtain structural datato determine one aspect of this question, we used confocal microscopy to provide in situ measurements of the two cell types that make up the cortex of merino wool fibres, which was chosen as a well-characterised model system representative of narrow diameter hairs, such as underhairs. We measured orthocortical and paracortical cross-sectional areas, and cortical cell lengths, within individual fibre snippets of defined uniplanar curvature. This allowed a direct test of two long-standing theories of the mechanism of curvature in hairs. We found evidence contradicting the theory that curvature results from there being more cells on the side of the fibre closest to the outside, or convex edge, of curvature. In all cases, the orthocortical cells close to the outside of curvature were longer than paracortical cells close to the inside of the curvature, which supports the theory that curvature is underpinned by differences in cell type length. However,the latter theory also implies that, for all fibres, curvature should correlate with the proportions of orthocortical and paracortical cells,and we found no evidence for this. In merino wool, it appears that the absolute length of cells of each type and proportion of cells varies from fibre to fibre, and only the difference between the length of the two cell types is important. Implications for curvature in higher diameter hairs,such as guard hairs and those on the human scalp, are discussed.
- Crimp and bulk, important wool fiber properties, are thought to be related to differences in the protein composition of the orthocortex and paracortex. Fiber morphological studies have demonstrated that the paracortex has a higher proportion of matrix and cysteine than the orthocortex. While there is some evidence for the differential expression of genes between these cell types in the follicle, this has not been demonstrated satisfactorily in the mature fiber. Using proteolytic digestion of wool fibers, followed by ultrasonic disruption to obtain relatively pure fractions of both cell types, the KAP3 high sulfur protein family was found to be present in higher concentrations in the paracortex. This significant finding provides an explanation for the higher cysteine content reported in the paracortex. This represents an advance in our understanding of protein expression variation in the orthocortex and paracortex, and how this relates to key physical and mechanical properties of wool fibers.