Scientists Have A New Answer to Why Our Hair Turns Gray

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A new study published in the journal PLOS Biology, titled ‘A direct link between MITF, innate immunity, and hair graying’, sheds a new light on how our immune system is involved in our hair going white.

The Color of Our Hair

Our hair gets color from cells that make up melanin, called melanocytes. When the hair falls, there are special stem cells which add melanocytes to new follicles of hair. When the stem cells no longer work, hair grows without color. Scientists at the National Institutes of Health and the University of Alabama, Birmingham (UAB) have started studying on mice the relationship between loss of pigment and the immune system.

Scientists have discovered that the immune system’s interferons are to blame, attacking the MITF protein which helps melanocytes to stay alive. Now, scientists need to see if the results in mice will be the same in human trials.

Assistant professor Melissa Harris is the lead author of the study and also works at the department of biology at UAB and she said in a statement:

“Genomic tools allow us to assess how all of the genes within our genome change their expression under different conditions, and sometimes they change in ways that we don’t anticipate. We are interested in genes that affect how our stem cells are maintained over time. We like to study gray hair because it’s an easy read-out of melanocyte stem cell dysfunction.”

Searching For a Connection Between the Immune System and Pigmentation Diseases

Co-author of the study and chief of the Genetic Disease Research Branch at NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), William Pavan, continued the statement, explaining their goals:

“This new discovery suggests that genes that control pigment in hair and skin also work to control the innate immune system. These results may enhance our understanding of hair graying. More importantly, discovering this connection will help us understand pigmentation diseases with innate immune system involvement like vitiligo.”

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