Scientists in Beijing say they have discovered a genetic cause for a certain type of premature baldness and they suggest their discovery offers hope in future that those who inherit this rare type of baldness will eventually be able to keep their hair.
A team from Peking Union Medical College led by Xue Zhang have uncovered a DNA mechanism which results in Maria Unna hereditary hypotrichosis (MUHH), a baldness that strikes before adulthood.
MUHH is a rare inherited condition characterized by hair loss that starts during childhood and it affects both men and women - children born with the condition have very little or no hair at birth and have wiry or coarse hair in childhood which they progressively lose at puberty.
Victims often have no eyebrows or eyelashes, very little armpit and pubic hair and poor nails and women often have normal thickness hair which does not grow very long and loss of hair on other parts of the body.
The culprit in MUHH are flaws in the gene U2HR located on Chromosome 8, which acts as a key switch in the process as it controls a small peptide that in turn affects a protein called the human hairless monolog, or HR, which is crucial for the regeneration of hair follicles.
The discovery was made by trawling through the genome of 19 Chinese families with a history of MUHH, which is how the team found that mutations of U2HR led to increased levels of HR.
The researchers say the death of the hair follicles increases the likelihood of this kind of baldness and they suggest their research may offer the potential for a new drug to block this pathway and treat baldness.
The Chinese team say that fine-tuning HR protein levels is important in control of hair growth, and they have found a potential mechanism for preventing hair loss or promoting hair removal.
The study is published online in the journal Nature Genetics.