Trichotillomania and Genetics

Research Section

Gene Variation Could Explain Trichotillomania in Some Families

After researching 44 families in which one or more family members are trichsters, Duke University Hospital Scientists in Durham, North Carolina have discovered two mutations in a gene called SLITKR1. The other gene worthy of research is the HOXB8 gene.

Given the small number of families researched, it is hard to give exact figures but it is estimated that the SLITRK1 structural changes are present in perhaps five percent of trichsters, so this is by no means the answer we have been looking for, for most of us.

These findings do indicate a biological origin behind disorders like ours, yet it is wise to be wary of discounting the effect of our experiences and self-image, on our pulling, as well as the fact that many trichsters do not have either of these mutations of the SLITKR1 gene.

In 2005, this same SLITRK1 gene was connected with the more severe last impulse-control disorder, Tourettes, and there are a few families in which one person has Tourettes while another has trichotillomania.

Two mutations in the SLITRK1 gene were discovered in some individuals with trichotillomania but not shared by their non-trichster relations.

The SLITRK1 gene plays a part in bridging connections between brain cells, and it may be that in the split second before a connection is made, or while a connection is trying to be made, this electrical interruption causes an urge to pull out hair or eyelashes.

It is likely that a combination of genes and perhaps structural variations of genes contribute to the condition in most tricsters, but every discovery about the hair pulling disorder is a step to unlocking a solution.

updated 23 December 2020, review 23 December