Biallelic TUFT1 variants cause woolly hair, superficial skin fragility and desmosomal defects

Adam Jackson, Celia Moss, Kate E Chandler, Pablo Lopez Balboa, Maria L Bageta, Gabriela Petrof, Anna E Martinez, Lu Liu, Alyson Guy, Jemima E Mellerio, John Y W Lee, Malobi Ogboli, Gavin Ryan, Genomics England Research Consortium, John A McGrath, Siddharth Banka

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Desmosomes are complex cell junction structures that connect intermediate filaments providing strong cell-to-cell adhesion in tissues exposed to mechanical stress.

OBJECTIVES: To identify causal variants in individuals with woolly hair and skin fragility of unknown genetic cause.

METHODS: This research was conducted using whole-genome sequencing, whole-exome sequencing, clinical phenotyping, haplotype analysis, single-cell RNA sequencing data analysis, immunofluorescence microscopy and transmission electron microscopy.

RESULTS: We identified homozygous predicted loss-of-function tuftelin-1 (TUFT1) variants in nine individuals, from three families, with woolly hair and skin fragility. One donor splice-site variant, c.60+1G>A, was present in two families, while a frameshift variant, p.Gln189Asnfs*49, was found in the third family. Haplotype analysis showed the c.60+1G>A substitution to be a founder variant in the Irish population that likely arose approximately 20 generations ago. Human and mouse single-cell RNA sequencing data showed TUFT1 expression to be enriched in the hair dermal sheath and keratinocytes. TUFT1 expression was highly correlated with genes encoding desmosomal components implicated in diseases with phenotypes that overlap with the cohort presented here. Immunofluorescence showed tuftelin-1 to be mainly localized to the peripheral cell membranes of keratinocytes in normal skin. Skin samples from individuals with TUFT1 variants showed markedly reduced immunoreactivity for tuftelin-1, with a loss of the keratinocyte cell membrane labelling. Light microscopy revealed keratinocyte adhesion, mild hyperkeratosis and areas of superficial peeling. Transmission electron microscopy showed panepidermal acantholysis with widening of intercellular spaces throughout the epidermis and desmosomal detachment through the inner plaques.

CONCLUSIONS: Biallelic loss-of-function TUFT1 variants cause a new autosomal recessive skin/hair disorder characterized by woolly hair texture and early-onset skin fragility. Tuftelin-1 has a role in desmosomal integrity and function.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-83
Number of pages9
JournalThe British journal of dermatology
Issue number1
Early online date5 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jan 2023


  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Animals
  • Hair Diseases/genetics
  • Skin
  • Skin Abnormalities
  • Keratinocytes/metabolism
  • Hair


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