How do gray hair develop?
Are you one of those people who have already discovered some gray hair? Certainly this is a normal part of aging, but have you ever wondered how this gray hair is made and why do some people get gray hair earlier than others? Researchers have now found that the immune system attacks the so-called MITF gene. This helps the melanocytes in the production of the pigment melanin, which is responsible for the color of hair, eyes and skin.
The scientists from the University of Alabama in Birmingham found in their current investigation that an attack by the immune system affects a protein in the body, which is involved in the coloring of hair, skin and eyes. This attack causes the hair to start turning gray. The doctors published the results of their study in the English-language journal "PLOS Biology".
Immune system attacks MITF gene
In their current study, the University of Alabama researchers wanted to find out why our hair loses pigment in old age, which in turn causes the hair to turn gray. For this, the scientists carried out an investigation on mice. In particular, they analyzed how attacks by the immune system influence the so-called MITF gene. This protein helps the melanocytes to function properly. The so-called melanocytes are the cells responsible for melanin, which give our eyes, skin and hair their color, the experts explain.
What role do infections play?
After fully analyzing their research, the scientists found that the MITF gene is also likely to control the release of interferons, a protein that fights viral infections. The scientists had already suspected that even infection could have an impact on the likelihood of gray hair.
Immune system attacks melanocytes
If there was not enough MITF, the mice produced an excess of interferons in the experiment, which then forces the immune system to attack the melanocytes and cause the growth of unpigmented or gray hair. So far, it is unknown to the scientists whether the observations of the current study can really be transferred one to one to humans. However, the doctors believe that the results of the study could explain why some people get gray hair earlier in life.
With a special disposition, infection can cause gray hair
If an individual is actually healthy, but has a special predisposition to gray hair, a simple virus infection can already be enough to cause the decrease in melanocytes and melanocyte stem cells, which in turn causes gray hair to develop prematurely, explains study author Melissa Harris from the University of Alabama in a press release.
Study leads to better understanding
However, the scientists also found in their investigation that such an infection does not immediately lead to gray hair. The results of the study highlight a mechanism that will help experts better understand which biological contributions contribute to the visible signs of aging. (as)