Gone Today, Hair Tomorrow?

February 18th, 2011
bald mice A new study surprised researchers by showing a link between hair loss, stress, and the digestive system.  This will certainly trigger more research and novel treatments in the future. For now, decrease your stress to protect your hair! — Cathie

Photo: The bald mice in row C are the same mice shown in group B, after treatment with a hair-growth compound. The mice in row A were given a placebo.

From The New York Times: Mouse researchers conducting stress hormone experiments have stumbled onto a surprising new discovery — a potential treatment for hair loss—while  working with genetically altered mice that typically develop head-to-tail baldness as a result of overproducing a stress hormone.

The experiment wasn’t focused on hair loss. Instead, it was designed to study a chemical compound that blocks the effects of stress on the gut. The researchers treated the bald mice for five days with the compound and then returned them to the cages, where they scampered about with several furry mice from a control group.

Three months later, the scientists went back to the cage to conduct additional experiments. They were surprised by what they saw inside — all of the mice had full heads and backs of hair. The once-bald mice, eventually identified through ear tags, were indistinguishable from their normal, furry cage mates.

Dr. Million Mulugeta of the preclinical stress biology program at U.C.L.A., said he looked inside the cage and at first wondered why the bald mice weren’t there. “I asked my colleague, ‘How come these mice aren’t distinguishable from the others?’ ” he said. “We went back to our data log, and we realized all the mice had grown hair. It was a totally unexpected finding.”In another series of experiments, the compound was injected into young mice before their hair fell out. Those mice never went bald, suggesting the compound not only has the potential to grow hair but may also prevent age-related hair loss.

The duration of the effect is important, because current hair-loss prevention remedies — including minoxidil (sold under the brand name Rogaine) and finasteride (sold as Propecia) — require regular use to maintain what is typically described as only a modest benefit.

The mice used in the experiments had been genetically altered to overproduce a stress hormone called corticotrophin-releasing factor, or CRF. To block the action of CRF, the researchers injected the mice with a peptide called astressin-B. The experiment was designed to measure how much the peptide would inhibit the effects of stress on the colon.

Dr. Mulugeta also noted that in addition to preventing hair loss, the agent affected the mice’s skin pigment, suggesting the compound may have the potential to affect hair color, including gray hair.

The serendipitous discovery was reported Wednesday in the online medical journal PLoS One.

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