Closer to the Genetic Roots of Male-Pattern Hair Loss

Baldness is a common condition among men. It is typically regarded as something ‘normal’ and not indicative of a predisposition to diseases, although it may cause some psychological distress in the affected. However, scientists have discovered positive correlations between baldness and several diseases. Male-pattern hair loss, as it is formally known in the medical realm, affects at least 50% of men in old age. It's the most frequent from of hair loss and its cause is thought to be largely genetic. Recent studies have finally shed some light on the genetic underpinnings of the condition, revealing several complex relationships with other diseases and innate traits.

Shortness and baldness

According to scientists at the University of Bonn, Germany, short men are more likely to experience hair loss prematurely. They studied the genetic material of more than 20,000 men from around the world. Slightly less than half were bald. After analyzing the data, the team of scientists led by geneticists Dr. Stefanie Heilmann-Heimbach and Prof. Markus Nothen discovered that prematurely bald men carried 60 specific genetic alterations. These genetic signatures meant that prematurely bald males are more likely to undergo puberty earlier, to have small body size, and to develop several types of cancer (including prostate cancer).

Associations between bone density and light skin color were also found. The study—now published in the Nature Communications journal—complements the findings of another recent large-scale study at the University of Edinburgh, UK. Here, scientists analyzed the genetic material of more than 50,000 thousand men to also investigate the genes responsible for hair loss. As a result, 287 genetic regions were identified, and, surprisingly, many of them derived from the X chromosome, which is inherited from the mother. Scientists highlighted that one of the long-term goals of this type of research is the development of a genetic tool that can help predict hair loss patterns in the future.

Prostate cancer and baldness

In fact, these studies lend more credibility to the findings of previous studies, namely a significant correlation between early-onset male-pattern baldness and increased risk of aggressive prostate cancer. The new genetic insights may also help scientists understand why black men are at greater risk of developing prostate cancer than white or Asian men.

More research is needed to fully understand how genetic factors affect the onset of hair loss, and how this is genetically intertwined with other innate health conditions and characteristics. As knowledge continues to grow, ultimate genetic treatment for hair loss could eventually be developed in the future.