As part of an ageing population, people are now increasingly looking for ways to fight the signs of ageing.
A new study at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, USA, appears to have made a significant breakthrough in this area, having managed to genetically engineer symptoms of old age – including skin wrinkles and hair loss – and then reverse them, in a mouse trial.
Reversing mitochondrial DNA depletion
According to the American researchers’ paper, published in the Cell Death & Disease Journal on 20th July 2018, mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) depletion is involved in various syndromes and diseases, as well as ageing and certain chronic conditions associated with ageing.
In order to evaluate the overall consequences of depleted mtDNA, the researchers conducted an animal trial whereby mice were first artificially aged, before this ageing was reversed.
By altering the mice genetics to deplete mtDNA, an example of which can be seen in image (ii) below, the mtDNA-depleter mice showed intense signs of ageing, including skin wrinkles and hair loss. Increased skin inflammation was also noted.
Hair loss and skin wrinkling were found to be more severe in the female mice than age-matched male mice. The female mice exhibited a different pattern of hair loss to the males, with males showing diffuse hair fall and females showing patterns aligned with time-dependent hair loss. In humans this is commonly known as senescent alopecia, the name given to the condition by which our hairs thin as we age, and which researchers have linked this to reduced collagen production.
When – again via genetic alterations – mtDNA levels were restored, these mtDNA-repleter mice – as seen in image (iii) below – had these ageing symptoms reversed.
‘Unprecedented’ reversal of hair loss and skin wrinkles
The article published by the study’s lead authors states: “We created an inducible mtDNA-depleter mouse expressing, in the polymerase domain of POLG1, a dominant-negative mutation to induce depletion of mtDNA in various tissues. These mice showed reduced mtDNA content, reduced mitochondrial gene expression, and instability of supercomplexes involved in oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) resulting in reduced OXPHOS enzymatic activities. We demonstrate that ubiquitous depletion of mtDNA in mice leads to predominant and profound effects on the skin resulting in wrinkles and visual hair loss with an increased number of dysfunctional hair follicles and inflammatory responses.
Development of skin wrinkle was associated with the significant epidermal hyperplasia, hyperkeratosis, increased expression of matrix metalloproteinases, and decreased expression of matrix metalloproteinase inhibitor TIMP1. We also discovered markedly increased skin inflammation that appears to be a contributing factor in skin pathology. Histopathologic analyses revealed dysfunctional hair follicles. mtDNA-depleter mice also show changes in expression of aging-associated markers including IGF1R, KLOTHO, VEGF, and MRPS5. mtDNA-repleter mice showed that, by turning off the mutant POLG1 transgene expression, mitochondrial function, as well as the skin and hair pathology, is reversed to wild-type level.
To our knowledge that restoration of mitochondrial functions can reverse the skin and hair pathology is unprecedented.”
Applications for male and female pattern baldness
Previous research had shown that the LIN28 family of genes could trigger mitochondrial functions to promote cell-healing and inhibit the proteins associated with ageing. This ability to regrow hair was considered useful for conditions such as Traction Alopecia, where the follicles are weakened and hair falls out after enduring frequent, excessive strain, often as a result of tight hairstyles or extra weight from hair extensions.
There were no stated links discovered in the case of either study that relate to the most common hair loss condition – Androgenetic Alopecia, which is most often referred to as Male Pattern Baldness in men and, in women, Female Pattern Hair Loss.
These are genetic hair loss conditions and, whilst often incorrectly linked to ageing, they can actually start any time following puberty in men and women with an underlying predisposition. Though it used to be the case that men would start to develop the condition in their 30’s, with women following suit from their 40’s onwards, it is now common for these conditions to affect both men and women from their 20’s onwards – although it can be earlier in some cases.
This age of onset is thought to be lowering due to modern lifestyles including increasing numbers of exacerbating factors known to trigger or accelerate these forms of hair thinning. These range from stress, the obesity crisis and dietary issues such as sugar consumption, to environmental concerns such as pollution.
Currently there are clinically-proven hair loss treatment options available for both men and women with Androgenetic Alopecia. These topical and oral medications are MHRA licensed and FDA approved and, at Belgravia, form the basis of customised hair treatment courses alongside key hair growth supporting products.
With the important information this new study has brought to light, especially in relation to the development – and reversal – of dysfunctional hair follicles and inflammation, it may be the case that further expansion upon these findings may be able to produce new ways to treat genetic hair loss or prevent baldness in the future. However, this is likely to be many years away from becoming a prescribable reality.
We await news of further developments in this extremely exciting area and will report them here on our hair loss blog as soon as information becomes available. In the meantime, anyone worried about excessive shedding, sudden hair fall or receding, should take advice from a hair specialist as soon as possible in order to get a timely professional diagnosis and treatment advice.
The Belgravia Centre is the leader in hair loss treatment in the UK, with two clinics based in Central London. If you are worried about hair loss you can arrange a free consultation with a hair loss expert or complete our Online Consultation Form from anywhere in the UK or the rest of the world. View our Hair Loss Success Stories, which are the largest collection of such success stories in the world and demonstrate the levels of success that so many of Belgravia’s patients achieve. You can also phone 020 7730 6666 any time for our hair loss helpline or to arrange a free consultation.