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Monday, 15 October, 2001, 11:01 GMT 12:01 UK
Clues to hair loss found
Bald forehead
The research could lead to new medical treatments
Scientists are one step closer to finding a cure for some congenital hair loss disorders.

A group in the US has worked out the function of a protein known to be linked to two rare problems.

Catherine Thompson, of the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, told BBC News Online that she hoped the discovery would eventually shed light on more common hair loss problems.

It has been clear for some time that a gene known as Hairless is linked to the disorders but scientists now know how the gene works in healthy people.

The next step is to work out what happens when the gene goes wrong.

The research highlights the difficulty of turning knowledge about genes, now provided in abundance by the Human Genome Project, into viable medical treatments.

Genes provide organisms like humans with "templates" to make proteins, the molecules that build and maintain the body.

Big clue

But knowing that a disease occurs when a particular gene goes wrong does not automatically mean scientists can cure it or even understand how it happens.

Sometimes they can work out what a protein does by comparing its structure to things they already understand. But that wasn't possible in this case.

"The real breakthrough is that there was absolutely no way to predict what this protein did based on sequence," Dr Thompson told BBC News Online. "Our biggest clue was to find out what it interacts with," she said.

She and her colleagues discovered that the Hairless protein works together with the body's receptors for the thyroid hormone. They are now working to unravel the complex sequence of events that follow this interaction.

"We can confidently say that Hairless will affect expression of other genes and that's what will help us find out more," Dr Thompson said.

Mutations of the Hairless gene are known to underlie two specific forms of hair loss disorder or atrichia.

People with the disease lose some or all of their hair once it is first shed after birth.

They can also suffer from wrinkly skin.

The research is published in the journal Genes and Development.

See also:

25 Jan 00 | Health
No hair, bad heart
30 Jan 98 | Sci/Tech
'Baldness Gene' discovered
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