Your grey hair might not be a sign of old age; a new study from researchers at the University of Alabama says sickness or stress may also be responsible.


The study, which was published in the PLOS Biology journal, used mice in experiment.

Melissa Harris, the lead author and assistant professor within the department of biology at the university, said they found a connection between hair pigmentation and immune regulation.

Researchers say when a body is under attack from a virus or bacteria, the immune system responds by producing signaling molecules called interferon.


Interferon signal to other cells to take action by turning on the expression of genes that inhibit viral replication and increase defenses.

She said melanocytes deposit pigment colour in the hair shaft and if the Melanogenesis Associated Transcription Factor (MITF) cannot control the effects of interferon on melanocytes, greying occurs.

“This new discovery suggests that genes that control pigment in hair and skin also work to control the innate immune system,” said William Pavan, study co-author and chief of the Genetic Disease Research Branch at National Human Genome Research Institute under National Institute of Health.


“These results may enhance our understanding of hair graying. More importantly, discovering this connection will help us understand pigmentation diseases with innate immune system involvement like vitiligo,” said Paven.

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