When it comes to hair, two of the most common problems associated with aging are baldness and gray hair. Genetics have long since been suspected, but no one has been able to pinpoint exactly what happens to determine these problems. As scientists have been struggling to pin down the actual cause, a new discovery may shed some light on the subject.
Lead researcher Lu Le commented in a press release, “Although this project was started in an effort to understand how certain kinds of tumors form, we ended up learning why hair turns gray and discovering the identity of the cell that directly gives rise to hair.”
Dr. Le is an associate professor of dermatology part of the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Texas Southwestern.
These Proteins Lead Either To Healthy Hair Or Baldness
Dr. Le and colleagues were actually looking at a rare genetic disorder that causes nerve tumors when they discovered a protein called KROX20. This can be found in skin stem cells at the base of hair follicles. During the study, it was seen to cause changes in the cells that make hair grow.
Next, the cells produce another protein called stem cell factor (SCF). When both these protein molecules are expressed in a cell, they move up the hair bulb and interact with melanocytes. The interaction causes healthy pigmented hair to grow. Melanocytes are cells associated with the pigmentation of both the hair, eyes and the skin.
When the scientists deleted the KROX20 cells in mice, hair didn’t grow and the mice became bald. Eliminating the SCF gene also caused the animals’ hair to turn white.
The research is in the very early stages and has only been conducted in mice. As human trials are still to come, immediate treatments for either baldness or gray hair are highly unlikely. However, the study may offer new insights into why people go gray or bald.
A paper with the initial research results was published in the May issue of Genes & Development.
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