Why Does Hair Turn Gray Prematurely?

Gray Hair Might Actually Be an Immune Response (Study)

Gray Hair Might Actually Be an Immune Response (Study)

The cells generated by these stem cells, also known as melanocytes, are the cells that produce pigmentation in the hair follicle. When the stem cells no longer work, hair grows without color.

The scientists were able to discover such a link between a person's immune system and the production of MITF after they carried out the study on mice which were bred to produce premature gray hair.

William Payan at the National Institutes of Health and Melissa Harris at the University of Alabama, both in the U.S., have now discovered that in addition to its role in melanin production MITF acts as an off-switch for certain genes involved in immune activity. The MITF gene is responsible for correct functioning of melanin, which is the chemical that gives our skin, eyes and hair their colour.

Results from a new study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham has found that grey hair can be a result of an immune response in the body.

When a body is under attack from a virus or bacteria, the innate immune system kicks into gear.

Scientists focused on a special type of stem cells in the hair called melanocytes. Interferons signal to other cells to act by turning on the expression of genes that inhibit viral replication, activate immune effector cells, and increase host defenses. "We are interested in genes that affect how our stem cells are maintained over time". "These results may enhance our understanding of hair greying".

Hair can turn gray when the MIFT's are unable to regulate this interferon response. The study revealed that a molecule that is involved in hair and skin pigmentation also controls certain immune genes.

The researchers explained that innate immune activation has a negative effect on melanocytes, which underlies the connection between viral infection and hair graying.

The researchers that conducted this study tested the gray hair in mice which is how they discovered the link between the innate immune system and the the MITF factor, which is a protein that also keeps interferon in check.

The study can not explain why a fright or severe illness might lead to rapid graying, but it may provide insights into the skin condition vitiligo, an autoimmune disorder in which the skin loses its color, and melanoma, a cancer of skin pigment cells, the study team writes in PLoS Biology.

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