Genetic Basis of ‘Uncombable Hair Syndrome’ Discovered

By Nathaniel Scharping | November 18, 2016 3:33 pm

A child with uncombable hair syndrome. (Credit: University of Bonn)

The next time you have a bad hair day, at least you can fix it. Be glad you don’t suffer from “uncombable hair syndrome.”

The condition, which is usually present only in childhood, results in a tangled mess of frizzy hair that leaves the afflicted looking like they’re being perpetually shocked by static electricity. The condition seems to be correlated with light-blonde hair that has a characteristic sheen to it. There have only been around 100 cases reported in the medical literature, under a variety of names. But now researchers have discovered its underlying genetic cause. 

A Tangled Mystery

Researchers haven’t paid much attention to the syndrome, but Regina Betz, from the University of Bonn, managed to find 11 children with the syndrome and sequenced their DNA, working with an international team of colleagues. After analyzing their genomes, her team identified three common mutations that were correlated with the phenomenon.

The three genes are responsible for interrelated aspects of the process that gives hair its structure. One encodes for a protein that binds to keratin, a substance integral to our hair, nails and skin, and the other two produce enzymes that affect how keratin binds together in our hair. If any of these three are thrown off, our hair won’t grow properly, resulting in the wild tangles that characterize uncombable hair syndrome. They published their findings Thursday in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

The researchers went on to breed mice with mutations in the same genes, and say that they ended up with mice rocking wavy coats and unnaturally curly whiskers, signs that their hypothesis was on the mark. While the researchers don’t suggest any cures for the condition, it shouldn’t pose any real harm, so long as your child is fine with looking like a young Einstein for a few years.

By examining all of the ways hair growth can go awry, scientists gain a better picture of the fundamental underpinnings of the process — something that might benefit us all.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts
MORE ABOUT: genes & health
  • Whimsy

    This is highly insensitive to those suffering from uncontrollable hair syndrome and reading “at least you can fix it….” We can’t!!

    • ECarpenter

      You poor dear! Dippity Doo was invented for people just like you!

  • Charles Brown

    “they ended up with mice rocking wavy coats and unnaturally curly whiskers”

    The internet would love to see pictures of these mice.

    • Bama

      I know! I can’t stop imagining what they look like. I NEED to see those Dapper Dan’s (and Danielle’s?)!

  • Uncle Al

    Cute kid, and not uncommon in redheads. “Be glad you don’t suffer from ‘uncombable hair syndrome.’” Hater. Be glad you don’t suffer from mango worms.

    • Erik Bosma

      Fortunately I am immune to bad hair because I don’t have any. Bahaha. Can you juice those mango worms? Maybe mango worms juice works as a hair tonic. Uncle Al. I expect better from you however I’ll give you, the material is pretty thin.

  • Erik Bosma

    Oh… so that’s where my tax dollars go.

    • ECarpenter

      Yes, fundamental research has had astounding, wonderful, unexpected consequences. Without fundamental research, we’d still be living in an ignorant world ruled by religion. It’s well worth the tax dollars.

      • Erik Bosma

        Would the leaders of this religion all have bad hair too? Pl

      • Erik Bosma

        There have always been many people who have not subscribed to the agendas of the powerful and ignorant or the charlatans who manipulated the king into giving them all kinds of money for their ridiculous personal agendas instead of giving it to the poor. And people today are still living in an ignorant world ruled by religion. Nothing has changed.

      • Jan Stephens

        E Carpenter that is a uneducated post! Sorry you have no idea that there are millions of believers who are scientists. Being a believer doesn’t indicate lack of learning but I definitely think atheists are ignorant.


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