Mutations that reduce the function of a small, previously unknown peptide cause a rare form of genetic hair loss, according to a study published online in Nature Genetics. The authors suggest that this peptide offers a new target for the development of drugs to treat some forms of human hair loss.
Investigators showed ten years ago that mutations in a gene called HR are responsible for a rare form of hair loss called congenital atrichia, in which hair is completely shed during the first year of life and never re-grows. A related form of hair loss, Maria Unna hereditary hypotrichosis, or MUHH, with a slightly different course had been mapped to a small region containing HR, but mutations in the gene had not been identified.
A team led by Xue Zhang has now shown that a sequence immediately adjacent to HR encodes a small peptide, and that mutations affecting the function of this peptide are found in 19 different families with MUHH. Interestingly, the peptide seems to function by inhibiting HR production, such that mutations in the peptide result in increased levels of HR. The authors conclude that HR levels must be maintained in a certain range to prevent hair loss.
Xue Zhang (Peking Union Medical College, Beijing, China)
Irwin McLean (University of Dundee, UK)
Abstract available online.
(C) Nature Genetics press release.
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