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Gene newly identified by Columbia researchers may improve hair removal

Researchers at Columbia University are uncovering the mechanisms of previously unknown genes governing hair growth and cycling. In their latest findings, published in the April 18 edition of Cell , they identified a new gene that encodes an adhesion protein crucial for hair growth. The findings could lead to better, longer-lasting hair-removal treatments, the researchers say, and might someday shed light on baldness.

The newly discovered protein, called desmoglein 4 (DSG4), holds cells together as they change into one of many different types of hair follicle cells. DSG4 ensures that each cell is in the right place at the right time as it marches alongside the others when the hair shaft is formed. This way, each cell receives the right signals to become the right type of hair cell.

This protein is like the Velcro that holds the cells together. If they dont stick together properly, they become disconnected from their neighbors and cant receive instructions properly, says Dr. Angela M. Christiano, associate professor of dermatology and genetics & development at Columbias College of Physicians & Surgeons, in whose laboratory the research was performed.

Without DSG4, the cells separate from each other and become disorganized, and rather than the six ordered layers of a normal hair fiber, you get a cluster of confused cells in the hair follicle. As a result, people and mice lacking the gene have thin, sparse hair that is fragile and breaks easily.

The gene, DSG4, is the third found in Dr. Christianos laboratory to have a role in human hair growth. Its the first of the three that codes for a structural protein, meaning it creates a product that becomes part of the bricks and mortar of the hair follicle. The other two are regulatory genes, meaning that rather than produce a structural protein, they are switch genes that turn other genes on and off.

In a sense, Dr. Christiano says, this is the first hardware gene. The ot
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Contact: Leslie Boen
lsb2001@columbia.edu
Columbia University Medical Center
6-May-2003


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