Investigating how stress affects gastrointestinal function, scientists say they’ve unwittingly stumbled upon a chemical compound – astressin-B – that induces “remarkable” hair growth by blocking a stress-related hormone associated with hair loss. The serendipitous discovery is described in the journal PLoS One.
“Our findings show that a short-duration treatment with this compound causes an astounding long-term hair regrowth in chronically stressed mutant mice,” said UCLA’s Million Mulugeta, an adjunct professor of medicine in the division of digestive diseases. “This could open new venues to treat hair loss in humans through the modulation of the stress hormone receptors, particularly hair loss related to chronic stress and aging.”
The researchers, from UCLA and The Salk Institute, were originally studying brain-gut interactions using mice that were genetically altered to overproduce a stress hormone called corticotrophin-releasing factor (CRF). As these mice age, they lose hair and eventually become bald on their backs, making them visually distinct from their unaltered counterparts. The astressin-B peptide was supposed to block the action of CRF.
The researchers injected the astressin-B into the bald mice to observe how its CRF-blocking ability affected gastrointestinal tract function. The initial single injection had no effect, so the team continued the injections over five days to give the peptide a better chance of blocking the CRF receptors. They measured the inhibitory effects of this regimen on the stress-induced response in the colons of the mice and placed the animals back in their cages with their hairy counterparts.
“When we analyzed the identification number of the mice that had grown hair we found that, indeed, the astressin-B peptide was responsible for the remarkable hair growth in the bald mice,” Mulugeta said. “Subsequent studies confirmed this unequivocally.”
Of particular interest was the short duration of the treatments: Just one shot per day for five consecutive days maintained the effects for up to four months. “This is a comparatively long time, considering that mice’s life span is less than two years,” Mulugeta noted.
Whether the regrowth effect also happens in humans remains to be seen, cautioned the researchers. However, they also treated the bald mice with minoxidil alone, which resulted in mild hair growth, as it does in humans. This suggests that astressin-B could also translate for use in humans.