WPLN – Ever wondered why your hair turns gray as you age? A team of researchers says it has identified the root cause as trapped stem cells — and that means new tips for naturally fending off grays from your mane could be coming soon.
It all starts with a type of stem cell called melanocytes, also known as McSCs, says the study, which was published in the journal Nature this week.
The research team from NYU Grossman School of Medicine was already familiar with melanocytes. They’re the main mechanism that produces the pigment melanin, bringing color to your skin and eyes.
That melanin is key to hair color. McSCs hang around in your hair follicles, where they receive a protein signal that tells them when to become mature cells. Mature cells release pigment and, voilà, you get your hair color.
But over the course of this study, the researchers learned that McSCs actually move between microscopic compartments in your hair follicle.
Each compartment might give the MsSC a slightly different protein signal, which allows the cell to oscillate between different levels of maturity. That’s largely unlike how other stem cells operate — that is, maturing until they die.
The unique maturity level of MsSCs gets more complicated the older you get. As your hair grows and sheds in cycles, the more McSCs get stuck in one particular compartment called the hair follicle bulge.
The follicle bulge isn’t giving those McSCs the signal to mature, and it’s not sending the McSCs back to a compartment that would. The jammed cells allow the hair to keep growing, but the hair isn’t given its dose of pigmentation. As a result, you go gray.
To prove this concept, the research team produced salt-and-pepper-colored mice by physically plucking strands of their hair again and again over the course of two years …