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Proteins point to the roots of baldness.

Proteins point to roots of baldness

That scourge of male self-esteem -- the receding hairline -- is beginning to shed some of its biochemical mystery. Researchers have isolated three proteins that critically regulate the balding process, or lack of it, in adult men, according to a report presented at a meeting of the Society for Investigative Dermatology in Washington, D.C., last week.

A treatment to reverse hair loss based on the discovery is, however, "far off in the future," says research dermatologist Marty Sawaya of the University of Miami (Fla.) School of Medicine.

Sawaya and her colleagues studied discarded scalp tissue taken from 60 middle-aged men undergoing hair transplant surgery. They isolated two forms of protein that serve as receptors for the male sex hormone testosterone in hair follicles and oil-secreting cells.

The smaller of the two proteins is associated with the balding process, says Sawaya. Bald hair follicles contain twice as much of the smaller protein compared with the larger protein, while the ratio of the two proteins is nearly equal in active hair follicles. In addition, the researchers find that testosterone binds in much greater quantities to the smaller protein.

The Miami scientists have isolated a third protein that suppresses the amount of male hormone binding to the smaller scalp protein. This "inhibitor protein" is significantly more abundant in active hair follicles, thus preventing a testosterone buildup. "Bald follicles just don't have enough of the inhibitor," says Sayawa. "This protein may play a significant role in the development of male baldness."

Work is now underway to purify the inhibitor protein and develop an antibody to the small protein related to hair loss. The next step, says Sayawa, is to see if hair loss and growth can be induced in animals.
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Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Date:May 14, 1988
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