Scientists hope that the discovery of a gene implicated in a rare hereditary form of hair loss may provide therapeutic opportunities for the future.
Researchers led by Dr Regina Betz at the University of Bonn, Germany, have identified a gene that plays a role in hypotrichosis simplex, an extremely rare genetic disorder which renders sufferers hairless from a young age.
Betz and the team assert that although the disorder is not common, understanding the genetic mechanism that lies behind it could provide very important clues to all types of hair loss and possible therapies.
"Although hypotrichosis simplex is very common, it may prove critical in our search for an understanding of the mechanisms of hair growth," said Betz.
Role of bioactive lipid receptor P2Y5
The research, published in the March issue of Nature Genetics, highlights the role of lysophosphatidic acid (LPA) in the maintenance of human hair growth.
When P2Y5 (an LPA receptor) is defective, as in sufferers of hypotrichosis simplex, messenger molecules from outside the hair follicle cell are unable to bind to it, and the follicle is not able to function normally.
In other words the LPA receptor P2Y5 is necessary to transmit the LPA signal through the cell membrane into the hair follicle cells - it is necessary for the normal functioning of the cell.
Dr Markus Nöthen from the University of Bonn explained that the receptor is known as a G protein-coupled receptor. This is a positive finding as this type of receptor is particularly well suited as points of impact for drug treatments, he noted.
The team concludes that: "the molecular identification of this receptor will facilitate the development of new lipophilic analogs of LPA which may offer new therapeutic approaches in the treatment of hair loss in humans."
Furthermore, the scientists hope that the findings will benefit patients suffering many forms of hair loss.
Significant market for hair loss treatments
Currently the market for hair loss treatments is estimated to be worth €1 billion.
An estimated 40 per cent of men have noticeable hair loss by the time they reach 35, a figure that rises to 65 per cent by the age of 60, however it is not solely a male problem.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology up to 30 million women may be suffering from some form of hair loss in the United States.