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Rebellious hairs! Do you suffer from unmanageable hair? You can blame your genes

It is a condition of Hair which has frustrated parents for decades, scientists now believe they have found the genes responsible for “uncombable hair syndrome”. Yes, it really is a thing.

Unmanageable hair syndrome is more than difficult hair. As the name suggests, it’s hair that stands out from every angle, making it nearly impossible to tame, let alone style. It usually begins in children aged three months to 12 years and is characterized by frizzy straw-blonde or silver-blonde hair. It is usually wavy, dry and brittle and, thanks to its appearance, it is sometimes called spun glass hair, pili trianguli and canaliculi or uncombable hair.

Boris Johnson or Albert Einstein might come to mind, but while these top men are famous for their unruly locks, with very few cases of unmanageable hair syndrome in the world, it’s highly unlikely that they have or have ever had the condition. Moreover, the condition tends to improve or even disappear in adulthood.

There has been little research on this rare disease, which first appeared in articles published in the 1970s. Since then, less than 70 publications have appeared, most being case reports.

One of the most recent studies involving 11 children with uncombed hair was conducted by geneticists at the University of Bonn, Germany. They found that the condition appeared to be explained by mutations in three genes that code for known proteins in the hair follicle.

However, since this study was widely reported in the press, more families with children with this condition have come forward, and now the same scientists have repeated the genetics with over 100 children. They confirmed that in 76 of these children, the cause was linked to mutations in the PADI3 gene, as well as the involvement of two other genes, all three of which code for important proteins involved in the formation of the hair fiber. .

Human variation in appearance, including hair, is the result of many small variations in our genes in the world’s population. When a mutation occurs in a gene, it sometimes results in a change in protein function. If this protein is in the hair follicle, the hair will more than likely look different. It can therefore be brown, blonde, curly, thick, straight, red or even bald.

There are well-known hereditary variations in the shape and curl of hair fibers, but these are rarely linked to serious disease. Interestingly, the proteins affected are often found in the inner root sheath: three layers of the hair follicle that help shape the hair fiber.

recessive genes?

We also know that uncombed hair is a “recessive” genetic trait. In other words, both parents must carry the mutated gene, even if they don’t have it themselves. So if your child inherits one copy of the affected gene from each parent, they will have the syndrome.

So why study such genetic hair diseases? This type of genetic study generates enough information that parents can now order a genetic test which can help allay any concerns about other rare diseases that can affect hair.

From a scientific perspective, it also helps the hair biology research community better understand normal hair growth and the importance of different proteins in controlling hair shape and appearance. For example, we can now explain why changes in PADI3 can alter hair shape by learning more about how it works in the follicle.

Hair is one of the most culturally distinctive and personal attributes. Its style, its shape, its color and, in fact, its absence are things that everyone thinks about every day. A huge hair care industry has developed over the last century to help us manage our hair. So when a rare disease causes such fascinating yet unmanageable hair change, it’s easy to see why scientists want to understand how it happens and help families with affected children better understand it, too.

*To read the original note, published in The Conversation, click here.

*By Gill Puerta, Business Development Manager, School of Life Sciences, University of Bradford

*The Conversation is an independent, nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts.


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