Hair-Pulling Disorder Caused By Faulty Gene In Some Families

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Hair-Pulling Disorder Trichotillomania

Scientists at Duke University Medical Center have identified gene mutations that cause trichotillomania, a psychiatric disorder that triggers people to compulsively pull their hair.

The disorder affects between 3 percent and 5 percent of the population and is considered an impulse control disorder. Patients with trichotillomania have noticeable hair loss or patches of baldness, but they often mask their habit. As a result, the disorder often goes undiagnosed and untreated, said researchers.

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The relatively unknown disorder is often accompanied by other psychiatric conditions, such as anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder or Tourette syndrome, which are better known than the hair-pulling behavior.

The Duke team found two mutations in a gene called SLITKR1 that were implicated in trichotillomania patients. The mutations account for only a small percentage of trichotillomania cases, said the scientists.

However, their findings are significant because they validate a biological basis for mental illnesses. Such illnesses have long been blamed on a person's upbringing or life experiences, said lead study investigator Stephan Z

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