Researchers at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas discovered which are the skin cells that cause gray hair and balding.

The discovery was produced while they were studying how cancer affects nerve cells. They suggest that the finding may help develop treatments to prevent baldness and graying hair.

Image credit: DHI Global Medical Group
Image credit: DHI Global Medical Group

Graying hair and balding may be treated in the future

In the study published in Genes & Development, researchers led by Dr. Lu Le discovered a protein named KROX20 that appears in skin cells that turn into the hair. These cells produce a protein known as stem cell factor which is a primary contributor to how the hair is structured and pigmented.

During tests, researchers deleted the stem cell factor in mice. This made their hair turn white. Later they tested eliminating the cells that produce KROX20, resulting in the mice losing their hair and not growing more hair.

The idea was to understand Neurofibromatosis Type 1, which is characterized by tumors growing on nerves.

“Although this project was started in an effort to understand how certain kinds of tumors form, we ended up learning why hair turns gray and discovering the identity of the cell that directly gives rise to hair,” stated Dr. Le, associate professor of dermatology.

The goal for the future is determining whether the process works the same in humans, and if it does, they would start developing a topical application to deliver the gene to hair follicles so the problems of baldness and graying of hair can be safely corrected.

The team was aware that stem cells located near hair follicles were inherently related to how hair is formed, just like the stem mentioned above cell factor has something to do with pigmentation. They were trying to understand what happens when the cells that produce the stem cell factor were moved to other parts of the hair follicle, the same approach was proposed for the cells that produce the KROX20 protein.

Image credit: iStock / Independent
Image credit: iStock / Independent

They found that when KROX20 and stem cell factors are present, they move upwards and interact with melanocytes, which are responsible for hair pigmentation, putting color on hair. After removing the stem cell factor, the hair turned gray and then white in later days. On the other hand, when the cells that produced KROX20 were removed the mice grew no hair.

Despite the newfound evidence that hair loss due to aging may not be stopped without focusing on hair cells, it is recommended to take certain measures to keep hair healthy as time goes by. If the person’s hair or scalp is oily, then it is highly recommended to wash it at least once per day. As the person gets older, the scalp produces less oil, so the amount of shampoo employed is often reduced.

Just as important as shampoo, conditioner is of great help for keeping the hair healthy and prevent it from falling apart due to it becoming too damaged. Perhaps there is an association between the oiliness of hair and how KROX20 and stem cell factors cease to be present as the person ages, although researchers still need to determine whether the same KROX20 and stem cell factor process apply in humans.

Source: TIME