The lead author, Kaustubh Adhikari of UCL's Cell and Developmental Biology Department, said in a statement at the time, "We already know several genes involved in balding and hair colour, but this is the first time a gene for graying has been identified in humans, as well as other genes influencing hair shape and density".
An overactive immune response, which can occur with viral infections, could result in sudden hair graying, according to research in mice.
Both hair-graying associations-premature McSC differentiation and immune dysregulation-have a common link-the melanogenesis associated transcription factor, or MITF.More news: 'Orwellian Nonsense'? China Says That's the Price of Doing Business
Indeed, by revealing how immune activation negatively effects melanocytes and melanocyte stem cells, the findings help explain why a severe infection or sustained stress, which causes inflammation, can cause some people's hair to go grey. "We also demonstrate that the viral mimic poly (I:C) is sufficient to expose genetic susceptibility to hair graying". So when a person has hair fall and grows it back, these cells supply with melanocytes, which produce the pigment melanin.
"This new discovery suggests that genes that control pigment in hair and skin also work to control the innate immune system", said study co-author William Pavan.
Our immune system is constantly defending us against viruses and bacteria, prompting cells under attack to produce signaling molecules called interferons.More news: United States school superintendent accused of being high school 'serial pooper'
Furthermore, they found that hair greying is caused if Melanogenesis Associated Transcription Factor (MITF) can not control the response of interferon in the melanocyte cells. However, the researchers found that MITF also serves to keep the melanocytes' interferon response in check.
Hair color is linked to the melanocyte stem cells that is found in hair follicles.
Why mice that are predisposed for getting gray hair are more susceptible to dysregulated innate immune signaling remains to be answered. The gene also seems to have a connection to vitiligo, a condition which causes discolored skin.More news: 'Avengers: Infinity War' Posted a Historic Second-Weekend Box Office Total
Usually, gray hair is associated with old age, but there are many people whose hair gets whiter even when they are younger. "More importantly, discovering this connection will help us understand pigmentation diseases with innate immune system involvement like vitiligo", said Paven.