September 2022

Revealing the Roles of Rogue RNA in Alopecia

As anyone who has seen The Hair Loss Clinic on television will know, losing one’s hair can be an emotionally and psychologically debilitating experience. a particular type of hair loss known as scarring alopecia is particularly challenging because it involves the destruction of the very cells that give rise to hair. Once these hair follicle stem cells are lost, there is no way for the hair to grow back. This makes scarring alopecia, which includes frontal fibrosing alopecia (FFA) and lichen planopilaris (LPP), rather hard to treat compared to more common types of hair loss like alopecia areata, where certain enzyme inhibitors have recently been approved for patient use. In our quest to understand disease processes associated with scarring alopecia, we wondered whether small RNA molecules of the microRNA (miRNA) family were partly to blame. Under normal circumstances, the levels of these miRNAs are finely balanced to support cell health, but sometimes the miRNAs “go rogue” and become agents of disease. As a result, miRNAs have become viable targets for the development of new treatment modalities for a wide range of disorders.

Our Findings:

We examined the overall miRNA profile in scarring alopecia scalp skin samples from several patients. Over a dozen miRNAs appeared to be altered in LPP skin, while almost fifty were altered in FFA. Through computational predictions, we identified miRNA and miRNA targets that may contribute to disease processes associated with FFA and LPP.

What difference do miRNAs make to patients?

The next step is to validate miRNA alterations in a larger set of patient samples to get a clearer picture of how much variation there is in the levels of miRNAs that seem promising targets for the development of new drugs. In addition, we need to develop technologies to deliver such drugs – which will likely be synthetic miRNAs (or synthetic miRNA inhibitors) safely to hair follicles. The successful deployment of nanoparticles and mRNA in the fight against COVID-19, has established the technological and commercial viability of RNA-based medicine. We therefore expect similar innovations to be tractable for scarring alopecia, especially when combined with recent advances in the manufacture of therapeutic RNAs. We are building collaborations to drive these ideas forward in order to make a real difference to patients living with scarring alopecia.

With thanks to the British Skin Foundation for funding microRNA research in my laboratory and Dr Matthew Harries for scarring alopecia samples from patients. I would also like to thank all the patients who donated scalp skin samples for the study.

Dr Kehinde Ross
Credit Jari Louhelainen

Dr Kehinde Ross, Liverpool John Moores University  

Donate    More research by Dr Ross    Learn about alopecia

By donating to skin disease research you are helping us to find treatments and cures for common conditions like eczema, acne and psoriasis through to potential killers like melanoma skin cancer. Thank you.