Genetic clues to male baldness found

October 16th, 2008 - 1:26 pm ICT by IANS  

Toronto, Oct 16 (IANS) Researchers have found two DNA variants in Caucasian men that could be linked to higher risk of male pattern baldness. Male pattern baldness is the most common form of baldness which leads to loss of hair in a well-defined pattern, beginning with the temples and resulting in a distinctive M-shaped hairline.

But the new findings may lead to an early prediction about hair loss and a future treatment to check male pattern baldness which affects one in three males over the age of 45.

As part of their research, medical scientists from McGill University in Montreal, GlaxoSmithKline (Canadian consumer healthcare group), and King’s College in London conducted a genome-wide association study of 1,125 Caucasian men who had been assessed for male pattern baldness, a McGill university release said.

They found two previously unknown genetic variants on chromosome 20 (one of the 23 pairs found in human beings) that substantially increased the risk of male pattern baldness.

To confirm these findings, they carried out further research on additional 1,650 Caucasian men.

“I would presume male pattern baldness is caused by the same genetic variation in non-Caucasians,” said Brent Richards, an assistant professor in genetic epidemiology at McGill University.

“But we haven’t studied those populations, so we can’t say for certain,” he said, cautioning that the breakthrough does not mean a treatment or cure for male pattern baldness is imminent.

“We’ve only identified a cause,” Richards said.

“Treating male pattern baldness will require more research. But, of course, the first step in finding a way to treat most conditions it is to first identify the cause,” he said.

“Early prediction before hair loss starts may lead to some interesting therapies that are more effective than treating late stage hair loss,” added Tim Spector of King’s College, London.

Researchers have long been aware of a genetic variant on the X chromosome that was linked to male pattern baldness, said Richards.

“That’s where the idea that baldness is inherited from the mother’s side of the family comes from,” he explained.

“However it’s been long recognised that there must be several genes causing male pattern baldness. Until now, no one could identify those other genes. If you have both the risk variants we discovered on chromosome 20 and the unrelated known variant on the X chromosome, your risk of becoming bald increases sevenfold,” said Richards.

“What’s startling is that one in seven men has both of those risk variants. That’s 14 percent of the total population.”

It is estimated that about a third of all men are affected by male pattern baldness by age 45, taking a huge economic and social toll.

Hair transplantation in the US alone cost $115 million in 2007, and therapy for male-pattern baldness globally generates many times more revenue.

The findings have been published in the journal Nature Genetics.

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