The ‘genetics’ behind male androgenic balding

Genetically-acquired (male) pattern hair loss is the most common form of scalp hair thinning in males (1) – and when a male has the genetic pre-disposition to show it – it’s part of the post-pubertal hormonal changes that gives men increased facial and body hair, muscle bulk and a deeper voice.

However that’s cold comfort to a young man in his late teens or early 20’s who’s facing the prospect of premature balding. Here are the researched genetic factors underlying this which determine how early and how rapidly a young man will begin to bald:

In 2005, scientists from Bonn and Dusseldorf universities found the androgen receptor gene responsible for androgenic balding on the X-chromosome. As this is inherited from one’s mother, it was believed young males would exhibit balding in the same way as their maternal grandfathers.

Continuing research from collaborative European and Australian scientists then discovered  two previously unknown genetic variants on a stretch of DNA (termed p11) at Chromosome 20, which meant androgenic hair loss can be inherited from BOTH one’s mother and father.

Unfortunately for young Caucasian males, these variants are present in one in seven of the many thousands studied. Worse still: if a young male has the two Chromosome 20 variants plus the previously identified but unrelated X-chromosome variant, the risk of premature balding increases seven-fold.

Premature androgenic scalp hair loss can have quite devastating psychological impacts on a young male in terms of their self-image, confidence, and self-esteem. For reasons yet to be fully understood, the genes responsible for this balding also increase the future risk physical health issues: coronary heart disease and hypertension (2).

With the genetic variants identified, scientists are exploring the feasibility of gene therapy on the hair follicles of ‘at risk’ young males to switch off the onset of androgenic balding. Researchers have already isolated mice stem cells that re-populate and maintain all cell types of the hair follicle.

Copyright: Anthony Pearce 2022.

  1. Genetic heritability accounts for 80% of instances.
  2. High blood pressure.
  3. References for this article available on request.

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