A cure for gray hair on the horizon? Scientists discover the mechanism for the color change in breakthrough that would allow us to reverse it
It’s the telltale sign of aging that men and women have been trying to cover up for generations.
But scientists are one step closer to finding a way to reverse graying hair without regular haircuts.
A team of researchers has discovered that stem cells – which can develop into many different cell types – have the unique ability to move between growth compartments in hair follicles.
As we age, these stem cells become trapped in a compartment called the hair follicle bulge.
These ‘trapped’ cells cannot regenerate into pigment cells, which help the hairs retain their color, causing the hair to turn gray.
Scientists are one step closer to finding a way to reverse graying hair without regular haircuts.
And the finding could one day lead to a treatment that allows people to keep their natural hair color without having to dye it.
The scientists at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine made the discovery after studying aged hairs in mice.
They focused on melanocyte stem cells, which are also found in humans and control hair color.
During normal hair growth, these cells move between compartments of the developing hair follicle and are exposed to different levels of protein signals.
As hair ages, falls out and then grows back repeatedly, more and more of these stem cells become trapped and are not exposed to certain proteins, preventing them from turning into pigment cells.
A lack of pigment cells means that the hair loses its color, resulting in the gray that many people dread.
The study, published in the journal Nature, revealed that the number of hair follicles with ‘stuck’ stem cells increased from 15 percent in young hair to more than half in hair that was older.
As we age, these stem cells become trapped in a compartment called the hair follicle bulge. These ‘trapped’ cells cannot regenerate into pigment cells, which help the hairs retain their color, causing the hair to turn gray
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“Our study adds to our basic understanding of how melanocyte stem cells work to color hair,” said lead researcher Qi Sun.
‘The newly discovered mechanisms raise the possibility that the same fixed positioning of melanocyte stem cells may exist in humans.
“If so, it offers a potential pathway to reverse or prevent the graying of human hair by helping trapped cells move again between developing hair follicles.”
The team now plans to explore the possible means of restoring the mobility of these stem cells – or physically moving them between compartments where they can produce pigment and prevent hairs from turning grey.
Senior researcher Mayumi Uti said: ‘It is the loss of chameleon-like function in melanocyte stem cells that may be responsible for graying and loss of hair color.
“These findings suggest that melanocyte stem cell motility and reversible differentiation are key to keeping hair healthy and colored.”
Past research has found that women who are “at risk” of going gray and stop dyeing their face hair are shamed and viewed as less competent.
Experts surveyed 80 women, mostly between the ages of 40 and 60, who were part of two Facebook groups about transitioning to gray hair.
Some women reported being seen as more vulnerable and offered seats on public transport after turning gray, while others said they felt they needed to pay more attention to their makeup and clothing to compensate for the potential seem older.