Alopecia areata, a disease in which localized hair (coin form) is lost in the scalp, beard, etc., can be triggered by attacks of cells of the immune system against hair follicles. The finding is the result of a large study in which genomes of more than 1,000 individuals with alopecia areata were compared to the genomes of people without the diseases.
Angela Christiano and her team at Columbia University in New York discovered 18 genes associated with alopecia areata
As would be expected from an autoimmune disease, in which the immune system turns against healthy tissues of the body itself, all the genes found participate in the control of growth and multiplication of cells of the immune system.
The strongest link was with a gene called ULBP. It encodes a protein that is a powerful activator of NK cells (“Natural Killers” in the English translation). When activated, NK cells attack viruses and other pathogens.
The team also found larger amounts of the protein in tissues of hair follicles of people with alopecia areata than in samples of people without the disease, providing additional evidence of their involvement in the disease. The group hopes the findings open new avenues for treatment of the disease.
“This is a breakthrough,” says Rod Sinclair, a dermatologist at the University of Melbourne, Australia. “After decades of little progress, this work heralds a new era of discovery. Now we can test the role of these genes one by one in the development of the disease.”
The study was published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature.
Source: NEW SCIENTIST