Researchers get a little closer to the bald truth
Going bald? Scientists have come to the rescue.
A team of researchers led by George Cotsarelis, a dermatologist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, have identified a previously unknown pathway that leads to hair loss in men.
Though a receptor in the male hormone testosterone is known to play a role in some men, how hair loss develops - a condition that affects 80 per cent of men as they age - is largely unknown.
Working with balding scalp tissues taken from five men, Cotarelis' team found that a lipid compound called prostaglandin D2 (PGD2) was more abundant than in normal tissues.
To check if PGD2 inhibits hair growth, they further experimented on mice, which confirmed the same pattern of hair loss. The results have been published in the current issue of Science Translational Medicine.
Now, PGD2 requires a molecule called G-protein-coupled-receptor-44 (GPR44) to inhibit hair growth. So to inhibit the inhibitor, the US scientists suppressed GPR44, which in turn lowered the levels of PGD2.
GPR44 is believed to play a key role in allergic diseases such as asthma, and drugs are being developed to suppress its actions.
'I would imagine that you could use one of those drugs topically to inhibit the GPR44 receptor', he told the Nature.com news service.
But just before you go rushing out to order these experimental drugs, Cotarelis cautioned that his team has not yet found the Holy Grail. They have yet to show a treatment that inhibits PGD2 can restore hair to already bald skin, he said. This will be their next experiment.
A previous experiment found that hair-follicle stem cells remain intact in balding skin. The team now needs to find out if PGD2 is the culprit that suppresses the stem cells - and whether these cells can be reactivated if PGD2 is blocked.