Published: Tue, May 08, 2018
Medicine | By Melba Vasquez

Scientists Explain One Possible Reason Why Hair Turns Gray

Scientists Explain One Possible Reason Why Hair Turns Gray

Updated | A new study has shed light on the role our immune system could play in our hair turning gray when we deal with stress or illness. If MITF's control of the interferon response is lost in melanocyte stem cells, hair-graying results.

Despite the limitations of the research, especially when it is translated to humans, William Pavan, coauthor and chief of the Genetic Disease Research Branch at the NIH's National Human Genome Research Institute, tells Newsweek that it can enhance scientists' knowledge of gray hair.

According to the researchers, when a body is under attack from a virus or bacteria, the innate immune system detects them and responds by producing signaling molecules called interferons.

They discovered several cells that deal with hair pigmentation are also related to some genes in the immune system. The MITF not only regulates the function of the melanocytes, but it also controls the interferon.

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Scientists from the United States as a result of experiments on mice found a link in the genes responsible for hair color, the genes that control the immune system.

Researchers have always been wondering where gray hair actually comes from.

As a result, the newly grown hair no longer has its natural color; instead, it gets gray or white.

In it, the authors explain how the immune response affects the MITF protein.

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The scientists hope their research will offer new insights into diseases that affect pigmentation, including vitiligo, a condition that destroys pigment cells in the skin. Studies showed that the artificial activation of the immune system in genetically predisposed mice also accelerated the graying process. Dr. Harris thinks the mechanism may explain why some people get gray hair in young age.

Because MITF turns out to be a "critical suppressor of innate immunity" and can cause loss of pigment producing cells, there may be implications for understanding vitiligo as well, the authors conclude.

The research follows a 2016 study by academics at University College London (UCL) that, for the first time, linked the gene called IRF4 to going gray.

Harris says, 'Perhaps, in an individual who is healthy yet predisposed for gray hair, getting an everyday viral infection is just enough to cause the decline of their melanocytes and melanocyte stem cells leading to premature gray hair'.

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This article was updated with a comment from Kaustubh Adhikari.

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