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Why Does Hair Turn Gray?
In 2011, a study conducted by a team of scientists at NYU Langone Medical Center was able to show that Wnt signaling actually dictates hair pigmentation when it takes place between melanocyte stem cells and hair follicles. Wnt signaling has already been linked to the important role it plays in many biological processes.
Mayumi Ito, PhD, headed the research and explained that for decades scientists have understood that stem cells in hair follicles and the pigment-creatingmelanocycte cells work together to create hair with pigment, but the actual process was not understood. This important study was featured in Cell journal and found that Wnt signaling is necessary for pigmentation of hair. The study even goes on to suggest that manipulating the signaling process may be a way to target certain coloring, including graying hair.
Researchers used genetic mouse models to look closely at how Wnt signaling pathways allow the follicle stem cells and melanocyte stem cells to collaborate to both generate new hair growth and color hair. The research found that abnormal or depleted Wnt signaling can inhibit hair regrowth as well as prevent the activation of the melanocyte stem cells that’s vital to producing the hair’s color. When the melanocyte stem cells are not activated through this signal, hair is produced with a lack of pigment.
The study by the team at NYU Langone may also have even more far-reaching implications, including tissue regeneration. Because the body has a number of forms of stem cells with the potential to regenerate organs, the method behind this communication between follicle stem cells and coloring during the hair replacement cycle may help researchers in the future learn more about how to regenerate organs with other types of cells. This valuable insight can even offer better understanding of disease in which the melanocyte cells experience uncontrolled cell growth, such as melanoma.
The full text of the study is available at: http://www.cell.com/retrieve/pii/S0092867411005307.