Research reveals that greying of hair is a response to serious illness or chronic stress, according to a new study published on May 3, 2018.
Researchers at the National Institutes of Health and the University of Alabama, Birmingham discovered a link between the genes that contribute to hair color and those that notify our bodies of a pathogenic infection.
The immune system notifies the body when it is under attack from a virus or bacteria. All cells produce signaling molecules called interferons in this response, to take action. This is expressed through genes that inhibit viral replication, activate immune effector cells, and increase host defenses.
“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.” Said Melissa Harris, lead author iof the study.
Gray hair, the transcription factor MITF, and innate immunity seemed to be closely related. MITF regulates functions within melanocytes, as well as serves to keep a check on the melanocytes’ interferon response. Greying of hair is a result of MITF’s loss of control over the interferon response.
When innate immune signaling was artificially activated in bodies of mice, in an experiment. Researchers found that they got gray hair.
“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.” said William Pavan, co-author of the study.