Trichothiodystrophy: update on the sulfur-deficient brittle hair syndromes

J Am Acad Dermatol. 2001 Jun;44(6):891-920; quiz 921-4. doi: 10.1067/mjd.2001.114294.


Trichothiodystrophy (TTD) refers to a heterogeneous group of autosomal recessive disorders that share the distinctive features of short, brittle hair and an abnormally low sulfur content. Within the spectrum of the TTD syndromes are numerous interrelated neuroectodermal disorders. The TTD syndromes show defective synthesis of high-sulfur matrix proteins. Abnormalities in excision repair of ultraviolet (UV)-damaged DNA are recognized in about half of the patients. Three distinct autosomal recessive syndromes are associated with nucleotide excision repair (NER) defects: the photosensitive form of TTD, xeroderma pigmentosum, and Cockayne syndrome. The unifying feature of these conditions is exaggerated sensitivity to sunlight and UV radiation. In contrast to patients with xeroderma pigmentosum, no increase of skin cancers in patients with TTD has been observed. Genetically, 3 complementation groups have been characterized among photosensitive patients with TTD. Most patients exhibit mutations on the two alleles of the XPD gene. Rarely, mutated XPB gene or an unidentified TTD-A gene may result in TTD. In UV-sensitive TTD, the TFIIH transcription factor containing XPB and XPD helicase activities necessary for both transcription initiation and DNA repair is damaged. Beyond deficiency in the NER pathway, it is hypothesized that basal transcription may be altered leading to decreased transcription of specific genes. Depressed RNA synthesis may account for some clinical features, such as growth retardation, neurologic abnormalities, and brittle hair and nails. Therefore the attenuated expression of some proteins in differentiated cells is most likely explained by a mechanism distinct from DNA repair deficiency. The first transgenic mouse models for NER deficiencies have been generated. The TTD mouse as well as related cell models will provide important tools to understand the complex relationships between defects in DNA repair, low-sulfur hair shaft disorders, and the genotype-phenotype correlates for this constellation of inherited disorders, including the lack of predisposition to cancer in patients with TTD.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • DNA Damage / genetics*
  • DNA Helicases*
  • DNA-Binding Proteins*
  • Face / abnormalities
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Hair / abnormalities*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Point Mutation
  • Proteins / genetics
  • Skin Diseases / genetics*
  • Skin Diseases / pathology
  • Sulfur / deficiency*
  • Syndrome
  • Transcription Factors*
  • Ultraviolet Rays / adverse effects
  • Xeroderma Pigmentosum Group D Protein


  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Proteins
  • Transcription Factors
  • Sulfur
  • DNA Helicases
  • Xeroderma Pigmentosum Group D Protein
  • ERCC2 protein, human
  • Ercc2 protein, mouse