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Hair graying traced to genes that control immune syste
May 13, 2018, 4:48 pm
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A study conducted by the National Institutes of Health in the US and the University of Alabama, Birmingham, has found a link between genes that warn our bodies of a pathogenic infection and genes that play a role in determining hair color.

When the body encounters a virus, the first line of defense is the innate immune system. Each cell in the human body contains receptors that are capable of identifying harmful viruses and bacteria.

Upon binding to a foreign molecule, cells release signaling molecules called interferons, which prompt or stimulate gene expression in other cells for increasing host defenses, turning on immune effector cells, and inhibiting viral replication.

The researchers discovered that the MITF gene, which provides instructions for making a protein called melanogenesis associated transcription factor, linked to regulation of the innate immune system, also helps control the development and function of pigment-producing cells called melanocytes.

Melanocyte stem cells play a key role in hair pigmentation as they make the melanocytes that produce and release pigment into the hair shaft. The study found that, although MITF is most commonly associated with regulating the numerous functions within melanocytes, it also helps control the melanocytes’ interferon response.

Hair can turn gray when the MITF are unable to regulate this interferon response. Moreover, when innate immune signaling was simulated in rodent models susceptible to losing hair pigmentation, more gray hairs were observed.

 

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