Androgens and alopecia

Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2002 Dec 30;198(1-2):89-95. doi: 10.1016/s0303-7207(02)00372-6.


Androgens have profound effects on scalp and body hair in humans. Scalp hair grows constitutively in the absence of androgens, while body hair growth is dependent on the action of androgens. Androgenetic alopecia, referred to as male pattern hair loss (MPHL) in men and female pattern hair loss (FPHL) in women, is due to the progressive miniaturization of scalp hair. Observations in both eunuchs, who have low levels of testicular androgens, and males with genetic 5alpha-reductase (5alphaR) deficiency, who have low levels of dihydrotestosterone (DHT), implicate DHT as a key androgen in the pathogenesis of MPHL in men. The development of finasteride, a type 2-selective 5alphaR inhibitor, further advanced our understanding of the role of DHT in the pathophysiology of scalp alopecia. Controlled clinical trials with finasteride demonstrated improvements in scalp hair growth in treated men associated with reductions in scalp DHT content, and a trend towards reversal of scalp hair miniaturization was evident by histopathologic evaluation of scalp biopsies. In contrast to its beneficial effects in men, finasteride did not improve hair growth in postmenopausal women with FPHL. Histopathological evaluation of scalp biopsies confirmed that finasteride treatment produced no benefit on scalp hair in these women. These findings suggest that MPHL and FPHL are distinct clinical entities, with disparate pathophysiologies. Studies that elucidate the molecular mechanisms by which androgens regulate hair growth would provide greater understanding of these differences.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • 3-Oxo-5-alpha-Steroid 4-Dehydrogenase / metabolism
  • 5-alpha Reductase Inhibitors
  • Alopecia / drug therapy
  • Alopecia / physiopathology*
  • Androgens / metabolism*
  • Clinical Trials, Phase III as Topic
  • Dihydrotestosterone / metabolism
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / metabolism
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Finasteride / metabolism
  • Finasteride / therapeutic use
  • Hair Follicle / growth & development
  • Hair Follicle / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Scalp / anatomy & histology
  • Scalp / metabolism
  • Twin Studies as Topic


  • 5-alpha Reductase Inhibitors
  • Androgens
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Dihydrotestosterone
  • Finasteride
  • 3-Oxo-5-alpha-Steroid 4-Dehydrogenase