In one of the largest studies ever completed investigating the genetic origins of acne, researchers have homed in on several genetic regions that could be associated with the condition. Fascinatingly, it was revealed that many of these genetic regions are also associated with hair follicle function, highlighting a novel mechanism that may be targeted for new acne treatments in the future.

Acne is an incredibly heritable condition. Prior epidemiological studies have revealed in some cases the condition can be 80 percent related to genetic factors. However, prior research into the disorder's genetic origins has been relatively limited, only uncovering a small volume of potential genetic variants influencing acne risk.

Acne is a complex condition and it is generally known to be an inflammatory disease of the skin. Most research and treatment centers on ways to combat the inflammatory mechanisms that result in the condition's characteristic skin symptoms, but these medications often result in problematic and unpleasant side effects.

A new comprehensive investigation into the genetic risk factors that could influence acne examined the DNA of nearly 27,000 individuals, of which 5,600 reported suffering from severe acne. The results revealed 15 specific genetic locations that could be associated with severe acne, 12 of which have never been connected to the condition before.

"We are really excited to have found so many regions of the genome that are involved in acne," says Michael Simpson, a researcher on the project from King's College London.

Most interesting was the discovery that many of these newly discovered genetic regions were known to play major roles in both the structure and function of hair follicles. One acne-associated genetic variant in particular is known to cause a rare condition called ectodermal dysplasia, resulting in sparse body hair.

"It was surprising that so many of the variants appear to influence the structure and function of the hair follicle," explains Simpson. "It may be that the genetic variation influences the shape of these hair follicles and makes them more prone to bacteria and inflammation, which are a characteristic of acne."

Jonathan Barker, lead author on the new study, notes that there have been a dearth of advances in the field of acne research over the past few decades. It may be several years before this new research manifests in a real clinical treatment, but Barker says this discovery is a significant leap forward.

"For people with acne, it's so important to have more treatments available," says Barker. "We need to treat people earlier and more effectively, so that they don't get scars, which last even after the condition has come and gone. When you have insight into the genetic basis of a condition, you can develop much more effective treatments."

The new research was published in the journal Nature Communications.