London, Feb 26 : Researchers at the Columbia University Medical Center have identified a new gene that is involved in determining hair texture in humans.
In the study, researchers found that mutations in a gene, known as P2RY5, cause hereditary 'woolly hair' - hair that is coarse, dry, tightly curled and sparse.
According to the research team, the findings might lead to new treatments for excessive or abnormal hair growth.
"Our findings indicate that mutations in the P2RY5 gene cause hereditary woolly hair. This is significant as it represents the discovery of the first new gene whose primary function seems to be the determination of hair texture in humans," Nature quoted lead author Angela M. Christiano, Ph.D., the Richard and Mildred Rhodebeck Professor of Dermatology and Genetics and Development, at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, as saying.
"This genetic finding may inform the development of new treatments for excessive or unwanted hair, or potentially hair growth." she added.
For the study, Dr. Christiano and her colleagues focused on Pakistani families where woolly hair was common.
They set out to determine why such a hair texture was common among this group, with a hope that finding the genetic basis of this unique type of hair would help them to distinguish other genetic hair types, and to further understand the genetic underpinnings of different types of hair.
To find a gene involved in controlling hair texture, the researchers performed a genetic analysis of six families of Pakistani origin, who all shared hereditary woolly hair.
The cause of hereditary woolly hair was found to be a mutation in the P2RY5 gene.
"The bulb region of plucked hairs from woolly hair patients showed irregular bending without attachment of the root sheath," the researchers said.
They suggest that mutations in P2RY5 most likely result in hair follicle disruptions, which then compromise its anchoring to the hair shaft and cause the abnormal bending of the bulb region, leading to woolly hair.
The new findings have led to the identification of several genes controlling human hair growth.
However, it is yet to be determined whether common variants on the P2RY5 gene can also contribute to naturally occurring variations in hair texture between different human populations.
The research team believes that P2RY5 is the first gene of a type known as a G-protein coupled receptor (GPCR) implicated in a human hair disorder, thus making it possible to develop drugs that target this receptor.
GPCRs represent the largest known class of molecular targets with proven therapeutic value.
The findings were published in an online edition of Nature Genetics.