Mothers' genes contain bald truth about hair loss

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Sons have long blamed their fathers when they start balding prematurely but new research suggests it may be caused by the mother's genes.

Sons have long blamed their fathers when they start balding prematurely but new research suggests it may be caused by the mother's genes.

Scientists have discovered a gene that plays a crucial role in male hair loss on the X chromosome. Men always inherit the X chromosome from their mothers, while women inherit an X from each parent.

When it comes to going bald, a man is therefore likely to take after his maternal grandfather rather than his father, the study by a team of German scientists indicates.

The gene affects the androgen receptor, a protein that helps activate male hormones. Certain changes in the gene may result in "male pattern baldness", marked by receding hairlines and thinning of hair at the back of the head.

It had long been suspected that hereditary factors were an important cause of hair loss. Until now it has not been clear which genes are involved.

The androgen receptor gene was identified by scientists who spent years searching for families in which several men were affected by baldness.

Blood samples were taken from the volunteers and screened for candidate genes. Eventually the scientists found that the gene lay on a part of the X chromosome associated with the biggest contribution to baldness. Professor Markus Nothen, from Bonn University, who led the research team, said: "One variant of this gene was found among men who suffered from premature balding at a very early stage very much more often than among men who still had a full head of hair when over 60."

The genetic variant is believed to result in more androgen receptors on the scalp. This would make the scalp more sensitive to the effect of hormones, leading to hair loss.

The findings appear in the July edition of the American Journal of Human Genetics.

Professor Nothen insisted that baldness was not caused simply by one gene. "We have indications that other genes are involved," he said. It was likely that, in some cases, the hereditary defect could also be passed directly from father to son.

The scientists are now looking for more volunteers to widen their gene search. They especially want to hear from men under 40 with severe hair loss who have a brother who is also affected.

Research last year suggested British and German men were among the most susceptible to baldness in Europe.

But while Germans went for treatment, 90 per cent of balding British men were too embarrassed to do anything about it.

Three-quarters of men who have started losing their hair suffer self-esteem problems and two-thirds of them feel insecure as a result of hair loss, the Gallup survey of 1,500 men in five European countries indicated.

Men in southern Europe were more relaxed about hair loss and more comfortable about getting treatment. Half of British men opted for shaving their heads or keeping their hair very short to make any follicular deficiency less obvious.

Some scientists believe stem cell research could lead to ways of preventing and reversing baldness.

Last year, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania identified stem cells or master cells in the hair follicles of mice that could be transplanted into skin and potentially stimulate hair growth.

Myths

* Wearing a baseball cap causes baldness

* Combing rather than brushing causes increased hair loss

* Blow drying causes hair loss

* Washing your hair on a daily basis causes hair loss

* Long exposure to the sun causes hair to fall out

* Excessive sweating of the scalp causes hair loss

* To get hair to grow quickly, brush 100 strokes every day

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