New Genetic Clues Help Explain Baldness

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Updated: 12/20/2011 6:17 pm

Jan. 4, 2011 -- A genetic defect in the way hair follicle cells develop may play an important role in male-pattern baldness and offer an alternative avenue for future treatments.

A new study suggests that a defect in the way hair follicle stem cells convert to progenitor cells may be an underling cause of androgenetic alopecia (AGA). AGA is a common form of hair loss in both men and women, including male-pattern baldness.

Stem cells are the blank slates of the cellular world and form the basis for cell specialization. Progenitor cells represent the next step up in cell development.

Researchers say male-pattern baldness is associated with a significant decrease in hair follicle size, which could be related to a loss of the hair follicle stem or progenitor cells necessary for normal development.

To test this theory, researchers compared the number of these cells in bald and non-bald scalp cell samples from people with AGA.

The results, published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, showed that the bald scalp samples had significantly fewer of the progenitor cells needed for normal hair follicle development.

Researcher Luis A. Garza of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and colleagues say the findings suggest that a genetic defect in the conversion of hair follicle stem cells to progenitor cells may contribute to male-pattern baldness. If further studies confirm this, it could offer a new target for the development of male-pattern baldness treatments.

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