Trichothiodystrophy: quantification of cysteine in human hair and nails by application of sodium azide-dependent oxidation to cysteic acid

Arch Dermatol Res. 2004 Sep;296(4):188-91. doi: 10.1007/s00403-004-0483-2.


The term "trichothiodystrophy" (TTD) covers several autosomal recessive diseases whose diagnostic hallmark is short, brittle hair low in sulfur and cystine because of impaired synthesis of high-sulfur matrix protein. Clinical symptoms associated with TTD represent a variable range of abnormalities in organs derived from ectoderm and neuroectoderm. Important laboratory tests of the hair for the diagnosis of TTD comprise polarizing microscopy ("tiger-tail" pattern), electron microscopy, and amino acids analysis of hydrolyzed hair with a special focus on cystine. However, only very few institutions determine the amino acid composition of human hair and nail clippings, which requires special sample preparation including hydrolysis. If no special precautions are taken, quantification of cysteine and cystine becomes inaccurate because of decomposition of these residues during hydrolysis. We therefore performed the sample work-up with azide-dependent oxidation which we have for the first time adapted for analysis of hair and nail clippings. With our control and parent data resembling published data on hair and nail samples, we obtained a decreased proportion of cysteine (half cystine, determined as cysteic acid) in materials obtained from a boy with TTD. Clearly, the method for the quantification of cysteine following sodium azide-dependent oxidation is a suitable and rather convenient approach to the quantification of cyst(e)ine and other amino acids in hair and nail proteins, and is a valuable contribution to the diagnosis of TTD.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Cysteic Acid / metabolism*
  • Cysteine / metabolism*
  • Genes, Recessive*
  • Hair / metabolism*
  • Hair / pathology
  • Hair Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Hair Diseases / genetics
  • Hair Diseases / metabolism*
  • Hair Diseases / pathology
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Nails / metabolism*
  • Oxidation-Reduction / drug effects
  • Sodium Azide* / pharmacology


  • Sodium Azide
  • Cysteic Acid
  • Cysteine