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Grey Hair & Immune System

May 14, 2018

A new study suggests that turning grey could be related to the immune system.



Grey hair and immunity. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Illness, chronic stress, and chemotherapy can all turn hair grey. Now, researchers have found a link between genes involved in activating the innate immune system and those that trigger grey hair. University of Alabama, Birmingham biologist Melissa Harris says melanocyte stem cells are responsible for hair’s pigment.

MELISSA HARRIS (University of Alabama, Birmingham):

What we’ve found is as these stem cells begin to lose their function, you get non-pigmented grey hair.


Harris’s team infected mice that had a genetic predisposition for grey hair with a virus-like agent. In response, their hair turned grey, suggesting that immune system activity is related to the breakdown of melanocyte stem cells. The researchers write in PLOS Biology that the results help explain premature greying as well as other pigmentation-related disorders. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Susanne Bard