A gene whose main role is to help prevent cancer also plays a role in controlling hair growth, Italian researchers report.
Mouse that were bred to lack one of the two pairs of the gene, designated FHIT, developed alopecia areata -- hair loss that can occur in many ways, most notably the male pattern baldness seen as men grow older.
The FHIT-deficient mice developed baldness at the same rate as normal mice given doses of benzo(a)pyrene, a chemical known to cause hair loss, the researchers said.
The findings, by researchers at the University of Genoa, appear in the May 1-5 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The report adds one more bit of information about FHIT, which "is well known to be a suppressor gene," said Yuri Pekarsky, assistant professor of molecular virology, immunology and medical genetics at Ohio State University, the leading center of research on the gene in the United States.
Studies by researchers at Ohio State have shown that the FHIT gene stops producing its protein in the early stages of lung cancer. Malfunction of the gene has also been seen in a number of other tumors, including colorectal, breast and cervical cancers.
What the Italian study shows is that "its function is not only important for tumor growth but also for this alopecia areata," Pekarsky said. "It demonstrates that deficiency in FHIT can cause hair loss."
While that finding may not be a major discovery, "it may just help to say what the normal function of the gene is," he said.