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Genetic Markers Tally Hair Loss Risk

by Jane Meggitt

It’s no secret that male pattern baldness is hereditary. Now, a British study reveals 200 genetic markers for male hair loss, raising the previous known number from a measly eight. The report devised a “risk score” of hair loss for males, based on information from 52,000 participants. It is the largest study on male baldness to date, an order of magnitude far greater than any previous studies.

The Study

The study, conducted by the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Genomic and Experimental Medicine and known as the U.K. Biobank Study, involved men between the ages of 40 and 69, with a mean age of 57.2. All of the men in the study identified as white. Approximately one-third of the men reported no hair loss, roughly a quarter each reported slight and moderate hair loss, and 18 percent reported severe hair loss. The study did not ask at what age hair loss began. Researchers conducted gene analysis looking specifically for “single nucleotide polymorphisms,” gene variations associated with severe hair loss. A total of 287 variations involving more than 100 genes were discovered by researchers. Of these, 40 were located on X chromosome, inherited maternally. One gene in particular – already linked to male pattern baldness - was associated with serious hair loss. There was also an association found between the genes for baldness and Parkinson’s disease, although no statistical correlations in the study group. The researchers found “nominally significant” associations with severe hair loss, as those such men were likely to be shorter, went through puberty earlier, had fewer children and a lower risk of bipolar disorder.

The Risk Score Formula

Researchers created the risk score formula based on genetic factors, which they warn may apply more to groups than individuals. Men scoring below average were on either end of the scale – 39 percent with no hair loss and 14 percent with severe hair loss. Of the men scoring in the top 10 percent of the study, nearly 60 percent suffered moderate to severe hair loss.

Practical Application

Currently, the information gleaned from the study doesn’t help the average man concerned with hair loss. That doesn’t mean that further studies, building on this one, won’t have more practical applications. The study concludes, “The release of genetic data on the full UK Biobank cohort will further refine these predictions and increase our understanding of the genetic architecture of male pattern baldness.”

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