Researchers have always been wondering where gray hair actually comes from. After assessing all sorts of theories, a team of researchers from University of Alabama and National Institute of Health developed a study on mice which might offer a conclusive answer. The secret behind white hair might be related to the immune system.
Why do people get gray hair?
Usually, gray hair is associated with old age, but there are many people whose hair gets whiter even when they are younger. In such cases, old age was no longer an explanation, so researchers needed to find something else. Some assumed the phenomenon was the product of intense stress during one’s daily life, but there was no scientific proof for it.
Therefore, the Alabama and NIH researchers decided to run some tests on mice. They discovered several cells that deal with hair pigmentation are also related to some genes in the immune system. If immune responses get too acute, they might cause the depigmentation of hair.
Gray hair might be a cause of an overactive immune system
The immune system comes into action whenever the body faces a virus. Then, it produces interferon, which are cells that signal viruses to other cells to avoid an improper functioning of the immune system. Also, hair gets its color from some stem cells called melanocytes. They produce melanin, which color our hair. If we didn’t have such cells, we would have gray hair.
When performing the mice experiment, researchers found a link between the immune system and a protein that controls interferon. Whenever this control didn’t happen in the melanocytes, the mice got gray hair. Also, when the immune system became active, those mice with few interferon control in the melanocytes were likely to get even more gray hair.
Therefore, gray hair might be a direct effect of an overactive immune system. The study is only in its prime. However, researchers hope they might find solutions to premature hair depigmentation, or to certain skin conditions that cause its bleaching. This study was published in the journal PLOS Biology.
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