P2RY5 is the cause of hair loss

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RESEARCHERS have found the genetic basis of two distinct forms of inherited hair loss, opening a broad path to treatments for thinning locks, according to a recent pair of studies.

Geneticist Regina Betz of the University of Bonn and her colleagues hunted down a gene P2RY5 that causes a rare, inherited form of hair loss called Hypotrichosis simplex. They found their quarry, after six years of research, among families in Saudi Arabia. It is the first receptor in humans known to play a role in hair growth, according to the study.

The disease affects both men and women, who begin to go bald during childhood.

At fault is a genetic defect that prevents certain receptors on the surface of hair follicle cells from being correctly formed.

For the hair follicle to function normally, messengers must bind to these receptors, triggering a chain reaction in the cell interior. The fact that a receptor plays a specific role in hair growth was previously unknown to scientists.

“We can now search selectively for related substances that may be used in therapies for very different types of hair loss,” said a researcher.

In the other study, Angela Christiano of Columbia University lead a team that found another mutation of the same gene that results in “woolly hair” — sparse, dry and tightly curled hair over the entire scalp.

Examining families in Pakistan, the researchers determined that the mutation is expressed in the inner root sheath of hair follicles, which anchor and shape individual hairs.

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