Inflammation can turn your hair grey

Credit PLOS Biology

Cells known as melanocytes make up melanin and give our hair its colour. When these stem cells stop working, our hair loses its pigment. The hair would turn gray if these cells are not produced. However, the investigators said they were surprised by the link they found between immune system activation and hair pigmentation in the mice. It is this process and its relationship with our immune system's defences that scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the University of Alabama, Birmingham, (UAB) set out to investigate-in mice. However, researchers hope they might find solutions to premature hair depigmentation, or to certain skin conditions that cause its bleaching.

"This discovery suggests that genes controlling pigmentation of hair and skin, are also involved in the management of the immune system", - quotes the portal Science Daily William's Pavane, one of the authors of the study.

Then, it produces interferon, which are cells that signal viruses to other cells to avoid an improper functioning of the immune system.

To quickly throw a biology recap at you, your hair/skin/eye color is regulated by melanin, which comes from melanocyte cells in the body. Also, the researchers determined that if MITF's control of the interferon response is lost in melanocyte stem cells, hair graying results. This is why people suffer with white or gray hair. "We are interested in genes that affect how our stem cells are maintained over time".

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An overactive immune response, which can occur with viral infections, could result in sudden hair graying, according to research in mice.

However, a new a new study shows that getting gray hair may stem from something being wrong in a person's immune system. What's more, mice genetically predisposed to developing gray hair had this response even when the immune response was turned on artificially.

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.

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.

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