Genetics

15 February 2017

Geneticists get to the root of hair loss in men

Researchers have spotted close to 300 genetic regions linked to male-pattern baldness, which could provide targets for treatment.

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Gene research may offer a glimmer of hope for men challenged by that bane of ageing – male-pattern baldness.

Eunuchs don't become bald

A Health24 article on hair loss in men reminds us that man's obsession with hair loss dates back millennia, and that historical persons like Julius Caesar were preoccupied with their hair loss. He apparently grew his hair long in the back and combed it all forward, and also wore laurel wreaths to camouflage his baldness.

Hippocrates, the father of Medicine made a potion for hair loss consisting of opium, horseradish, pigeon droppings, beetroot; spices and many other exotic ingredients. He made the interesting observation that eunuchs (sexually immature men) never became bald. 2400 years later, researchers at Duke's University showed the association between the male hormone testosterone and male pattern baldness.

Improved understanding

In the largest such study to date, a Scottish research team said it has identified close to 300 genetic regions tied to baldness. Previously, only a handful had been identified, the scientists said.

The University of Edinburgh researchers stressed that their findings don't mean a cure for shiny pates is coming tomorrow.

"However, these results take us one step closer," said study principal author Dr Ricardo Marioni.

He spoke in a news release from the journal PLOS Genetics.

Marioni, who's with the university's Centre for Genomic and Experimental Medicine, believes "the findings pave the way for an improved understanding of the genetic causes of hair loss".

Signals from X chromosome

In this study, the research team analysed genetic data from more than 52,000 men and pinpointed 287 genetic regions linked to severe hair loss.

Many of the identified genes are associated with hair structure and development. The genes could provide targets for the development of drugs to treat baldness some day, the researchers said.

"It was interesting to find that many of the genetics signals for male pattern baldness came from the X chromosome, which men inherit from their mothers," study co-leader Saskia Hagenaars said in the news release. Hagenaars is a Ph.D. student in the university's Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology.

"In this study, data were collected on hair loss pattern but not age of onset; we would expect to see an even stronger genetic signal if we were able to identify those with early onset hair loss," added study co-leader David Hill, a statistical geneticist at the university.

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