23andMe has been collaborating with scientists at the University of Bonn (and other institutions) in an effort to discover the role of genetics in male-pattern baldness. The study appears in the journal Nature Communications.
Does your family include several male relatives (and ancestors) who went bald? You might conclude that baldness “runs in the family”. Scientists know that losing one’s hair is highly heritable and dependent on testosterone. Not much is known beyond that.
23andMe collaborated with a team of researchers led by Stefanie Heilmann-Heinback of the University of Bonn. The researchers looked at data from more than 22,000 people. A total of 17,000 of those people were 23andMe customers who consented to participate in research. The rest of the data the researchers used came from several smaller cohorts in Europe and Asia.
Using that data for their large-scale meta-analysis, the researchers found 63 genetic variants associated with male pattern baldness. A total of 22 of those genetic variants were novel (meaning that they had not been discovered before.) The variants were found in or near genes that play a role in hormonal status, melatonin signaling, fat cell differentiation, and the growth phases of hair.
Six of the genetic variants are on the X-chromosome. The researchers think this could account for some of the resemblance of hair loss between men and their grandfathers on their maternal side. The other genetic variants found by the research who worked on this study were not on the X-chromosome. They were on the autosomes (the non-sex chromosomes).
The research on male-pattern baldness wasn’t done solely for cosmetic or aesthetic reasons. According to 23andMe, losing one’s hair early in life is associated with serious health conditions – such as prostate cancer and Parkinson’s disease. The hope was the information that researchers discovered in this study could also reveal new information about a wide range of other conditions.
The authors of the study think that male-pattern baldness could be an early prognostic marker for different phenotypes. They believe that the findings of the study could lead to the “repurposing” of existing drugs for the treatment of male-pattern baldness. The researchers noted that two drugs that were developed to treat hypertension and prostate hyperplasia have resulted in stopping hair loss and regrowing hair as side effects.
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