Hair loss seems like a minor problem to many. You got bald, so what? Some people prefer this look. However, for many men going bald is a terrible experience and they would pay good money to avoid it. Now scientists at the University of Helsinki have identified a mechanism that is likely to prevent hair loss.

Many men lose their hair as they grow older. It is natural and hereditary – if your dad or one of your grandads went bald, chances are your head is going to be very shiny in the future. On the other hand, ultraviolet radiation and other environmental factors damage our skin as well.

Stress is another factor as well as various diseases and some treatments. Scientists in Finland now think that hair follicle stem cells, which promote hair growth, could live longer if their metabolic state was switched. And scientists already managed to demonstrate that in experiments with a Rictor protein.

Naturally, an average human sheds 500 million cells and a quantity of hairs weighing a total of 1.5 grams every day. If you are not going bald already, this tissue is replaced by specialised stem cells. If these stem cells become inactive or at least less active, lost tissue is not going to be replaced and hair follicles are going to become weaker and smaller. Normally, as a hair follicle becomes older and weaker, stem cells replace it with a new one and then return to their specific location and resume a quiescent state. If this cycle could be maintained, baldness would be essentially cured.

Scientists now found that stem cells need a change in the metabolic state in order to return to their specific location. Essentially, they switch from glutamine-based metabolism and cellular respiration to glycolysis – this switch is induced by a protein called Rictor. Scientists found that when Rictor is absent, slow exhaustion of the stem cells and age-related hair loss begins. Experiments with mice showed that Rictor deficiency results in hair loss.

Sara Wickström, lead author of the study, said: “We are particularly excited about the observation that the application of a glutaminase inhibitor was able to restore stem cell function in the Rictor-deficient mice, proving the principle that modifying metabolic pathways could be a powerful way to boost the regenerative capacity of our tissues”.

Baldness is a minor issue – it is not life threatening and some people can really rock that look. But it can be a serious drag psychologically and it would be worthwhile to fix it. Also, scientists can use this opportunity to learn more about stem cells, their function and regenerative functions. This could benefit the entire aging research field.

Source: University of Helsinki

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