Bernstein Medical Center for Hair Restoration - Donor Dominant

Donor Dominant

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Q: What is Lichen planopilaris? — G.S., Pleasantville, NY

A: Lichen planopilaris (LPP) is a distinct variant of cicatricial (scarring) alopecia, a group of uncommon disorders which destroy the hair follicles and replace them with scar tissue. LPP is considered to have an autoimmune cause. In this condition, the body’s immune system attacks the hair follicles causing scarring and permanent hair loss. Clinically, LPP is characterized by the increased spacing of full thickness terminal hairs (due to follicular destruction) with associated redness around the follicles, scaling and areas of scarred scalp. In contrast, in androgenetic alopecia (AGA) or common baldness, one sees smaller, finer hairs (miniaturization) and non-inflamed, non-scarred scalp. Complicating the picture is that LPP and AGA can occur at the same time – particularly since the latter condition (common baldness) is so prevalent in the population (see photo). And LPP can involve the frontal area of the scalp, mimicking the pattern of common genetic hair loss. Interestingly, the condition is more common in women than in men.

For those considering a hair transplant, ruling out a diagnosis of LPP is particularly important as transplanted hair will often be rejected in patients with LPP. In common baldness, the disease resides in the follicles (i.e., a genetic sensitivity of the follicles to DHT). Since the donor hair follicles remain healthy, even when transplanted to a new location, we call common baldness donor dominant. It is the reason why hair transplantation works in persons with common baldness. In contrast, LPP is a recipient dominant condition. This means that the problem is in the recipient area skin, so if healthy hair is transplanted into an area affected by LPP the hair may be lost.

Because it is so important to rule out suspected LPP when considering a hair transplant and because it is often hard to make a definitive diagnosis on the physical exam alone, a scalp biopsy is often recommended when the diagnosis of LPP is being considered by your doctor. A scalp biopsy is a simple five minute office procedure, performed under local anesthesia. Generally one suture is used for the biopsy site and it heals with a barely detectable mark. It takes about a week to get the results. The biopsy can usually give the doctor a definitive answer on the presence or absence of LPP and guide further therapy. If the biopsy is negative, a hair transplant may be considered. If the biopsy shows lichen planopilaris, then medical therapy would be indicated.

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Q: Why does a hair transplant grow – why doesn’t the transplanted hair fall out? — J.F., Redding, C.T.

A: Hair transplants work because hair removed from the permanent zone in the back and sides of the scalp continues to grow when transplanted to the balding area in the front or top of one’s head. The reason is that the genetic predisposition for hair to fall out resides in the hair follicle itself, rather than in the scalp — this idea is called Donor Dominance. This predisposition is an inherited sensitivity to the effects of DHT, which causes affected hair to decrease in diameter and in length and eventually disappear — a process called “miniaturization.” When DHT resistant hair from the back of the scalp is transplanted to the top, it will continue to be resistant to DHT in its new location and grow normally.

Read more about Miniaturization
Read about the Causes of Hair Loss in Men

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Q: I am suffering from Pseudopelade for four years now. I have lost a lot of hair & there are big bald patches on the top of my scalp that are difficult to hide. Is there any hair transplant surgery or follicle transplant surgery possible in my case, or anything else I can do? — T.L., Boston, MA

A: In general, hair transplantation does not work for Pseudopelade (a localized area of scarring hair loss on the top of the scalp) since the condition is recipient dominant rather than donor dominant.

With a donor dominant condition, such as androgenetic hair loss, the tendency to have the condition, or be resistant to it, is located in the hair follicle and moves with the hair follicle when the follicle is transplanted to a new area. Therefore, in androgenetic alopecia, healthy permanent hair taken from the donor area in the back of the scalp will continue to grow in the a new location in the balding part of the scalp.

In a recipient dominant condition, such as Pseudopelade, the problem is in the skin, so if you perform a hair transplant into an affected area of skin, the transplanted hair will become affected by the same process and be lost.

The disease process can often be slowed down with anti-inflammatory agents, such as corticosteriods, applied or injected locally and the bald area can be camouflaged with cosmetics specially made for use on the scalp. See the Cosmetic Camouflage Products page on the Bernstein Medical – Center for Hair Restoration website.

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Q: Why does a hair transplant work? – L.L., Salem, Massachusetts

A: Hair transplantation works because hair taken from the permanent zone in the back and sides of the scalp maintains its original characteristics when transplanted to a new place in the balding area in the top of the head. This property of hair is called “donor dominance” and is the reason why hair transplants are possible.

The hair follicles in areas that go bald are genetically susceptible to DHT, a breakdown product of testosterone. In response to DHT, these hair follicles miniaturize (decrease in size) until they eventually disappear. When follicles from the permanent zone, that are resistant to the effects of DHT, are moved to a balding area, they maintain this property and continue to grow.

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