Bald thigh syndrome in sighthounds-Revisiting the cause of a well-known disease.
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Bald thigh syndrome is a common hair loss disorder in sighthounds. Numerous possible causes, including environmental conditions, trauma, stress, endocrinopathies and genetic components have been proposed, but only endocrinopathies have been ruled out scientifically. The overall goal of our study was to identify the cause of bald thigh syndrome and the pathological changes associated with it. We approached this aim by comparing skin biopsies and hair shafts of affected and control dogs microscopically as well as by applying high-throughput technologies such as genomics, transcriptomics and proteomics. While the histology is rather unspecific in most cases, trichogram analysis and scanning electron microscopy revealed severe structural abnormalities in hair shafts of affected dogs. This finding is supported by the results of the transcriptomic and proteomic profiling where genes and proteins important for differentiation of the inner root sheath and the assembly of a proper hair shaft were downregulated. Transcriptome profiling revealed a downregulation of genes encoding 23 hair shaft keratins and 51 keratin associated proteins, as well as desmosomal cadherins and several actors of the BMP signaling pathway which is important for hair shaft differentiation. The lower expression of keratin 71 and desmocollin 2 on the mRNA level in skin biopsies corresponded with a decreased protein expression in the hair shafts of affected dogs. The genetic analysis revealed a missense variant in the IGFBP5 gene homozygous in all available Greyhounds and other sighthounds. Further research is required to clarify whether the IGFBP5 variant represents a predisposing genetic risk factor. We conclude from our results that structural defects in the hair shafts are the cause for this well-known disease and these defects are associated with a downregulation of genes and proteins essential for hair shaft formation. Our data add important knowledge to further understand the molecular mechanisms of HF morphogenesis and alopecia in dogs.