Skin Molecules that Cause Baldness

Unwanted hair identified as U.S. researchers discover ways to disrupt both processes

When it comes to stopping hair from growing where you do not want it and growing hair that has stopped growing, the same molecules in the human body are at work, according to a new study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. The research was published in the journal Cell Stem Cell this month and stated that balding is caused by the protein inhibitor Dkk1.

This protein stops the intracellular Wnt/β-catenin pathway from functioning the way it is supposed to. More importantly, the researchers found that stem cells for dormant hair follicles are still maintained even after baldness begins. When the Dkk1 protein inhibitor was removed, the Wnt/β-catenin pathway began to function normally again, the stem cells reactivated and normal hair growth was restored.

Researchers unexpectedly discovered that the cell pathway is also normally active in non-hairy regions such as the tongue, soles of feet and palms of hands as well as between hair follicles. The discovery was consistent with previous findings that preventing the growth of skin tumors resulted from removing β-catenin.

“While more research is needed to improve our understanding of this pathway, our results suggest that therapeutics capable of decreasing levels of Wnt/β-catenin signaling in the skin could potentially be used to block growth of unwanted hair, and/or to treat certain skin tumors,” said Sarah Millar, PhD, and senior author of the study.

“Conversely, if delivered in a limited, safe and controlled way, agents that activate Wnt signaling might be used to promote hair growth in dormant hair follicles in conditions such as male pattern baldness.” added Millar, who is a professor in the departments of Cell and Developmental Biology and of Dermatology at the university.

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