Dr. Angela Christiano Columbia University Discovers "Nude" Baldness Gene
Research and clinical studies in immunodeficient patients have allowed scientists and doctors to gain more insights in identifying the genes that govern hair growth and eventually the development of gene therapy for hair growth. "Understanding the genetic underpinnings of the hair cycle will provide much better and rationally designed targets for the treatment of male-pattern baldness and other hair loss disorders in the future," said Dr. Angela Christiano of Columbia University in New York City. Dr. Christiano discovered the "hairless" gene earlier this year and is the lead author of a study published in the April issue of the journal Nature.
According to Dr. Christiano, her research team currently focus on a condition observed in laboratory mice. It was discovered that when a gene that governs the rodent's immune response was "switched off", the rodent's hair growth also discontinued. As a result of the study, immunodeficient mice are usually referred to as "nude" mice by scientists. Dr. Christiano went on to confirm that deletion of the "NUDE" gene inhibited both the maturation of immune T-cells in the mouse thymus gland, disabling immune function as well as hair growth.
In their current study, Dr. Christiano and her research team conducted DNA tests on the members of a family in Italy. Two sisters in the family were born lacking both functioning immune systems and the ability to grow hair. One girl died from the disorder, the other survived after a bone marrow transplant but failed to grow hair. Studying the surviving sister, Dr. Christiano said the researchers noticed that her condition very much resembled that of the NUDE mouse. Accordingly, it prompted the researchers to study if the disease in her family was linked to the human NUDE gene.
After a series of study, Dr. Christiano discovered that the girl carried a mutation in the middle of the gene that causes it to be completely wiped out. "Our goal now is to reintroduce the nude gene into her scalp to see if we can correct the disorder and grow her hair back," said Christiano. Genes such as NUDE appear to work like "switches", according to Christiano. "Once we can learn how to regulate both the switches and the targets, my laboratory's goal is to design a topical therapy that will approach the hair problem from both sides - treating both hair loss as well as the removal of unwanted hair," Christiano added.
All of these findings may have broader implications for the treatment of male pattern baldness and alopecia areata, a kind of hair loss characterized by patchy, temporary hair loss found in both men and women.
Date: Apr 5, 1999