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Science. Why do we gray with age? Scientists have discovered an unknown mechanism

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You may have discovered why people start graying as they age. Studying mice, scientists noticed that as the hair ages, the cells responsible for its color become immobile. Stopping this process can be a way to prevent graying. “We were surprised,” said the co-author of the study.

The results of the new study were published in the prestigious journal Nature on April 19. Researchers from New York’s Grossman School of Medicine say they may have discovered the mechanism by which hair turns gray as the body ages. This is due to the loss of the ability to mature and further activity of stem cells responsible for hair color. These conclusions are based on studies in mice, but in the future they may help to effectively prevent graying in humans as well.

Hair graying

Human hair grows from hair follicles in the skin. The epidermis also contains melanocytes, i.e. pigment cells responsible for hair color. As scientists have noted, melanocytes are constantly renewing themselves from stem cells. And it is in these cells, or rather the loss of their ability to move, according to researchers, the cause of graying.

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Researchers took a closer look at the stem cells found in the fur of mice. They followed them for two years to see how they behaved in different phases of hair growth. They found that these cells were constantly moving within the hair follicle, transitioning to a mature, pigment-producing state, and then returning to their original state. “We were surprised,” said study co-author Dr Qi Sun.

However, after some time, these cells lost the ability to return to their maturity. Researchers concluded that as hair ages, falls out and grows back multiple times, an increasing number of melanocyte stem cells find it difficult to function properly, i.e. to travel through the hair follicle and mature. Then they are no longer able to produce pigment and therefore the hair becomes grey, white or silver.

SEE ALSO: Scientists: How you sleep may indicate when you will die

Causes of graying

According to the researchers, it is very likely that the mechanism they discovered regarding the loss of fur color in mice also applies to human hair. ‘And if that’s the case, it offers a potential pathway to prevent or reverse the graying of human hair,’ Dr Sun pointed out. This could be done by helping stem cells that have lost their activity to re-migrate in the hair follicles.

SEE ALSO: An eye exam will determine your risk of death. A new method of detecting cardiovascular diseases

BBC, New York Times, Guardian

Main photo source: Shutterstock

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